We can all agree that going to college can be expensive. (This is especially true if you need to take out student loans.) But there are lots and lots of students who are inadvertently adding to their college bills.
The point I’m trying to make is this: You’ll want to spend your money wisely. If you don’t plan ahead, what seems like a perfectly normal decision (such as transferring schools and/or switching majors) can send your college costs soaring.
So, what are the expenses in college that add up, and how can you avoid them? I’m so very glad you asked.
How to Make College Cheaper
1. Avoid Switching Majors
If you’ve ever been told, “Don’t worry about your major. You can always change later!”
Say in your junior year, you switch from a history degree to a business degree. Your new degree requires you to take a substantial number of business-related courses, but it has no use for the four history courses you’ve already taken. The result? You’ve amassed almost a full semester of wasted credit hours (read: wasted time and money).
Now, every business class you take will essentially cost you twice as much money (the price of the new course plus the price of the old course you can’t use anymore).
Just don’t do it.
Instead, take your time and do your research. By making a solid college plan before enrolling, you’ll save an average of $594 for every credit hour you don’t have to replace.
2. Carefully Plan Your Transfer Credits
Pursuing your degree by enrolling first in a community college isn’t a bad decision on its own. But it can cause a lot of problems when you’re trying to save money on your college education.
Usually, community colleges advise you to earn an associate’s degree before transferring to a new school to finish your bachelor’s. The idea is to earn your first 60 credits at a small, inexpensive school before finishing at your more expensive institution. Seems like a good deal, right?
Associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees have very different requirements for graduation.
Unless you’re attending a community college with a very good matriculation agreement, you may be wasting time and money earning credits that won’t transfer.
Just like in the last point, every credit that is not transferable is a credit that needs to be replaced—costing you hundreds (even thousands) of dollars per course.
The internet has changed the way we engage with information. You don’t have to necessarily sit in specific classrooms for all your educational needs. You can build a college degree the way you’d build a playlist, using a variety of course styles from a variety of schools.
And the exciting thing is, most of these alternative credit options are far cheaper than the traditional classroom experience.
You could pay $594 per class for the luxury of being taught in-person by a professor. Or, you could take a $150 competency-based exam. If you don’t like those options, you could perhaps try an online professional studies or self-paced online courses.
Generally, there are at least six ways to earn a college course credit. And most of them are less expensive and more flexible than taking a traditional classroom-style course. (Increased flexibility provides the ability to fit school around your job or life, so you can maintain your four-year college plan without sacrificing what’s important to you.)
Depending on how many transfer credits your college accepts, this method can help reduce the cost of your bachelor’s degree by thousands of dollars.
4. Explore Online Options
Another way to save money on your college degree is to explore online options. If you’re skeptical about that, give me a second to explain.
Let’s start from the top. Campus housing and meal plans are expensive. How costly are they? Data from the National Center for Education Statistics notes that for the 2018-19 school year, the average cost for room and board at public in-state institutions was more than $11,300 for the academic year. The average cost for students who attended in-state private institutions during the 2018-29 school year was more than $12,700.
That’s insane, right?
But the savings of online educational options don’t stop there. Taking classes online will also save you money on gas, campus parking fees, and lost wages. If you opt for on-campus learning and need to attend a class at 4:00 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, that’s going to take a valuable amount of time out of your work week. In contrast, when you take your coursework online, you can study around your work schedule.
Making small changes to your college plan can save you substantial money over time. By thinking outside the box and making a few adjustments to the way you approach college, you can dramatically reduce your college costs. For more information about how to save money on your college expenses, be sure to check out Accelerated Pathways.
Do you know how you’re going to pay for college? It’s something you should be thinking about. Why? Because going to college is expensive.
A recent U.S. News & World Report article found that for the 2020–2021 academic year, the average cost for tuition and fees at private institutions was more than $35,000 per year. Tuition and fees at public institutions may be less, but the cost for out-of-state students was still a whopping $21,000, whereas the average tuition and fees for in-state students was $9,700. That puts the average cost for a four-year college education at somewhere between $38,800 and $140,000.
Like we said, going to college is expensive, so you’ll want to have a plan for how you’re going to pay for it.
If you’re like most college students, you’re probably relying on financial aid to cover a large portion of that absurdly high cost.
However, as it turns out, most of your “financial aid” options are actually student loans. Also worth noting is that taking out a loan is not “paying for” college. It’s just putting off a payment you can’t currently afford.
Fortunately, there are six simple and effective ways to pay for college that don’t involve grasping for student loans and hoping against hope that the debt doesn’t bury you alive
How to Pay for College Without Loans
The idea that you can pay for college without student loans can be hard to wrap your head around, but it’s possible. From finding an affordable degree to applying for scholarships and financial aid to getting a job with an employer that offers tuition assistance, there are many ways to get from point A to point B.
1. Find an Affordable Degree
Before asking how you’ll pay for college, consider how much you should pay for college. Not everyone needs to shell out five figures a year for a top-tier college experience.
Applying for scholarships doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. Just give yourself enough time to apply (our counselors recommend applying before your senior year of high school), and set clear expectations for how much effort you’ll put into the scholarship search. Eliminating both crunch time and vague expectations will help get you through the application process more quickly and will produce better results.
A variety of specific grants are available for college students. Some are based on merit; some are based on need. (For a full breakdown of the various types of grants that are available, check out the Sallie Mae website.)
4. Find a Job That Offers Tuition Benefits
Just don’t forget, the FAFSA isn’t the only place you can go for financial support. Consider getting a job with an employer that offers tuition benefits. If you already have a job, find out if your employer has a tuition assistance program. Your employer wants you to get your college education, so you may be surprised at the willingness to help you with the process.
5. Practice Money-Saving Habits
If you followed these steps in order, your final out-of-pocket costs should be significantly less daunting than they were when you started. At this point, you have one final goal: avoid debt. However, you can take other steps to save money. For example, live at home instead of on campus. Buy used books. You could also take online courses one at a time instead of paying for a whole semester in advance—we call this technique “cash-flowing college.”
Find creative ways to cut the fluff and maybe even reallocate your own resources. Debt-free degrees are unapologetically minimal.
6. Get a Part-Time Job
Many part-time jobs can help you pay for college, and, as we stated above, some of them might offer tuition assistance programs. Also worth noting is that in some cases, your student aid package might include work-study funds, which you can use to pay for college. Work-study programs pay students at least $7.25 per hour.
Paid internships, babysitting jobs, nanny jobs, and part-time gig economy jobs (such as driving for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Postmates) are also options worth exploring
Smart Choices Can Save You Money
By exploring the options above, debt-free college isn’t just possible—it’s definite, and most students can successfully cut their overall costs in half by simply talking to an adviser.
I’m sure you’ve already heard the oft-repeated advice, “community college is cheaper than university.” And while it isn't flashy, you have to admit earning two years of inexpensive credit before transferring into a university is the best choice for your wallet.
But a couple of Google searches in, you’re accosted by horror stories of community college graduates losing nearly all their credit upon transfer.
Is taking a risk with transfer credit really going to be worth it in the long run?
Actually, yes. If you know what you’re doing, earning transfer creditcan be a safe way to save money on your degree.
The key is to start with the end in mind and develop a foolproof plan before enrolling in any courses.
To do this, you must know which degree you want, which college you want to transfer to, and what their transfer policy is. Then you can spend your precious time and money on just the courses you know will transfer. (Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started.)
But how do you know which courses will transfer before taking them?
Colleges use course codes to describe and organize their courses in a way that can be easily understood by both colleges and students (if said students have translation guides, that is).
They consist of four important blocks of information.
1. Course Prefix
The first part of a college course code is simple: a series of letters indicating the course's general subject. This is the course prefix, and it’s fairly intuitive.
Tip: if you get stuck wondering what a particular set of letters means, compare several courses sharing the same prefix. Or Google it.
How to use it
Course prefixes will help you understand if the two courses you're trying to compare are part of the same academic department.
For instance, if your bachelor's degree requires 3 business math (BUS) or finance (FIN) credits, a general MAT math course won’t fit that requirement.
2. Course Numbers
The second part of a college course code is a series of numbers. These are often three digits long, but many colleges use four digits (or even five).
These numbers are the main way colleges organize their course catalog. No two courses at a college will share the exact same course number.
The most useful thing for students to understand about these numbers is how to distinguish between upper-level credit and lower-level credit.
Remedial courses do not count for college credit. Students only take them if they aren't able to start 100-level work yet. 100-200 courses are “lower-division” courses—often covering a wide range of foundational topics. 300-400 courses are “upper-division” courses. These courses provide more in-depth study, frequently in the student’s major.
(If your college uses a four- or five-digit numbering scheme, this rule will still hold true. 0000 is remedial, 1000-2000 is lower division, and 3000-4000 is upper division.)
The second and third digits in a course number are used in a variety of ways by different schools. While there isn’t a universal rule for what each number means in relation to each other, the main idea is just to distinguish different courses that are from the same department at the same level.
How to use it
Apart from that first digit, course numbers honestly aren’t very helpful for transferring credit. They vary widely between colleges and would take immense study just to learn how one specific college uses them. Even once you do understand your college’s system, these numbers won’t provide much assistance in understanding if your courses will transfer.
The one thing to remember about course numbers is that the first digit indicates what level of study your course is. That is likely the only uniform (and truly helpful) piece of information these numbers will provide for you.
3. Course Name
The third element of a course code is obvious: the name of the course. A course's name tells you what that course is about, and is actually the most useful way to compare courses.
Unlike course numbers, which are specific to each college, course names can be fairly standard between institutions—especially among lower-division subjects. (It’s likely the material taught in British Literature I at the University of Texas will match NYU’s British Literature I class.)
How to use it
Compare the name of the course you want to take to the name of a course your chosen college offers. The more exactly the names match, the better chance your credit will transfer.
Don't forget to check your degree’s program requirements, too. Does your college of choice require this specific course for your degree?
4. Course Description
The last thing you'll read about a course is its description. A course description is a general explanation of its topics and teaching methodology. This will give you added information about the course and the way it’s taught.
How to use it
When evaluating a transfer course from another school, colleges typically want to see at least 80% content overlap when compared to their own course. So even if a course you are considering has the same title as a course at your target school, be sure to examine the descriptions of each for similar terms and topics to get a feel for how well-aligned the content really is.
Where to Go From Here
So you’ve picked a college and degree. You also know more about college course codes than you ever wanted to. How do you start actually taking affordable transfer credit?
We can help.
For the past 15 years, our Central Registrar’s Office has helped thousands of students graduate debt free via affordable online courses selected specifically for their degree at their school.
We’ve already done the research you need, and can take the stress and confusion out of your college transfer.
Bad news for transfer students: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, you have a 70% chance of losing some or all of your previously earned credit during your college transfer (costing you thousands of dollars in lost credit). This is largely due to broken transfer policies that you have no control over.
While you unfortunately can’t control what transfer credit colleges accept, you can control which college you transfer credit into. By making the right choices early on, it’s absolutely possible to transfer from one college to another without losing a single credit.
How to Transfer Credit
Students change schools for a variety of reasons, such as needing to relocate, pursuing a different career path, or choosing to graduate from a more prestigious institution. In other cases, students may have dropped out of school before completing their degrees and now want to pick up where they left off.
If you’re a first-year student and already know where you plan to transfer to, be sure to research that school’s general education program. This can help you choose gen-ed courses that will satisfy the requirements for the school you plan to transfer to.
On the other hand, if you hadn’t planned on finishing your degree at a new school, the below tips can help you get started.
1. Investigate transfer policies before enrolling.
Every college has published policies indicating what transfer credit it will accept. Take these policies into account when choosing where you want to graduate from.
How to check if a college will accept your credit:
Request an unofficial transcript from your previous college (for details of your credit).
On your future college’s website, locate the most recent academic catalog.
Compare the credit you have (as listed on your transcript) with the school’s catalog. Take note of which of your transfer courses match courses the school offers by comparing course codes, titles, prerequisites, and descriptions. This is the credit your future college will accept.
Accepted credit isn’t always the same as applicable credit. Next, locate your desired degree’s requirements (posted online as well). Does the degree you want have room for your accepted transfer credit? You may think, “If my college accepts the credit, why do I need to check the specific degree?” The fact that your desired college accepts your transfer credit in general doesn’t necessarily mean that those credits all apply to your particular degree program’s specific requirements. So be sure not to skip this step!
Now do a search on the website for the school’s transfer policy to discover:
How much transfer credit it accepts
What kind of transfer credit it accepts
If you have questions, direct them to the school’s registrar. (The registrar is usually the one to transcribe credit for transfer students, so they will be able to help.)
2. Choose a transfer-friendly school.
Colleges commonly accept between 15 and 90 transfer credits, so it’s worth shopping around to find a college that will accept all your transfer credit.
This may mean choosing something “less impressive” than the college you had in mind. If that’s the case, examine your priorities. Do you really want to spend time and money re-earning credit from an “impressive” school when you can use credit you’ve already earned somewhere else? As long as the college you choose is regionally accredited, you can rest easy knowing it’s a fine choice.
3. Know where you’re graduating from.
Colleges evaluate transfer credit based on their requirements, not those of your previous school.
For example, unless your community college has an articulation agreement with a specific school, a 60-credit associate degree probably won’t count as 60 credits toward your bachelor’s at another school. They simply have different requirements.
Use community college or online course providers as a way to find and take courses for your future degree. Don’t bother with a community college’s "graduation requirements.”
(Use the method in tip #1 to compare the courses your future college offers with the courses you want to take. This strategy allows for a much more successful credit transfer.)
4. Stick to general education and elective courses.
Most colleges require that students take major-specific courses from their schools and nowhere else. If you’re planning to transfer colleges, hold off on these courses.
Stick to earning general education courses and free electives for now. (These courses have a higher chance of transferring into your future college.)
5. Enlist professional help.
How much of your precious time do you want to dedicate to this process? Save time and hassle by letting us help.
Pearson Accelerated Pathways will help you choose the best school for your goals. And since we aren’t affiliated with any college, we’re free to give you unbiased college advice. Then, we’ll help you build a college plan which takes into account the transfer credit you have. This plan will be tailored to the school you want to graduate from.
If you’d like to earn more transfer credit, you can do so with our own affordable online course options. These courses can help you save thousands of dollars on your degree.
Other Credit Transfer FAQs
If you’re trying to navigate the credit transfer process, you probably have a million questions. Although we can’t answer all of them in one blog article, we can provide answers to the three we hear most often:
Do I have to transfer all college credits?
If you’re concerned you’ll need to transfer all of your credits to a new school (including that one C- you’re still trying to erase from your memory), you can relax. Most colleges won’t accept transfer credits unless you earned at least a B. Others will give you credit as long as you earned a passing grade. Since these policies vary from school to school, the best answer to this question will come from the registrar’s office of the school you’re transferring to.
Can I choose which credits to transfer?
Yes and no. Although you can choose not to transfer certain course credits (especially ones you didn’t do well in), you also don’t get to decide what your new school will accept. For example, if you’re majoring in American history and you took several core courses required to graduate from school A, school B still might not accept them. Each school has its own major requirements.
Do I have to transfer credits when switching schools?
You’re by no means required to transfer credits, but it is a good idea as transferring gen-ed credits could save you a lot of money. If you have a specific concern about transferring credits, contact the registrar’s office at the school you plan to transfer to. It should be able to answer your questions and address your concerns.
Whether You Already Have Transfer Credit or Want To…
Going to college may have been an easy choice for your parents. Twenty years ago, career paths were more straightforward, and a bachelor’s degree was almost guaranteed to mark you as the cream of the crop. Not only that, but when a year of college cost barely more than a new iMac, it was much easier to pay for if you simply had some savings or even a part-time job. In a world like that, why wouldn’t you go to college?
But the world has changed.
Bachelor’s degrees are still respected, but they’re also flooding the marketplace. This means they’re not the guaranteed “in” they once were. At the same time, costs have risen so much that a year of school today costs almost five iMacs. And that’s not even counting books and housing fees.
Going to college is no longer a no-brainer.
So before you take out a $30,000 loan for something you may not even need, ask yourself the hard question: is a college degree necessary for the career you want?
But what if you’re considering work as a missionary, welder, graphic designer, or any of the various vocations that may not require a college education? It’s possible you could benefit more from earning a specialized certification tailored directly to your chosen career, letting you start working sooner and with a much smaller financial investment.
Obviously, choosing whether or not to go school won’t necessarily be as simple as this graphic describes, and there’s often not a clear-cut “right” or “wrong” choice. But we made this graphic simple for a reason. When it comes to deciding whether college is for you, you really just need to answer three important questions which we’ll discuss later in this post. Everything else will fall into place based on your answers to them.
The Benefits of College
The benefits of getting a college degree are still numerous. For example, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that the average college graduate earns $78,000 per year, against an average of $45,000 per year for individuals with only a high school diploma. Other benefits include the following:
College graduates have greater access to employer-offered benefits, paid time off, and employer-sponsored retirement savings plans, such as 401(k) contribution matching. The Association of Public Land-Grant Universities reports that bachelor’s degree holders are 47% more likely to have health insurance through their jobs than individuals who hold only a high school diploma.
College graduates have more career options. For example, someone who majors in psychology can go on to become a clinical psychologist. Or, if they don’t want to practice psychology, they can pursue jobs in sales, marketing, education, and countless other fields. Although most employers require that candidates have a college degree, unless the job is degree-specific (e.g., mechanical engineer), their majors are often irrelevant.
The Challenges of College
Although going to college has numerous pros, you should also weigh the cons. For example, tuition fees have increased by more than 25% in the past 10 years. Other cons include:
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that as of June 2020, 39% of recent graduates and 32.7% of college graduates were underemployed and working in jobs that did not require a college degree.
The increased rate at which students are earning college degrees has diluted their value.
The 3 Questions to Ask When Making a College Decision
Making the decision to go to college requires thought and reflection. Here are some important questions to ask yourself before you go.
1. Do I know what career I want?
Going to college means making a significant investment in your future. No matter how you slice it, you’ll be spending no small amount of time, money, effort, and focus to gain an education.
So you better be sure you actually need the schooling before making the investment.
Are you interested in being a masseuse, airline pilot, entrepreneur, electrician, or athlete? None of these jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Some require an associate degree. Some require non-college education. Some, simply on-the-job training.
Every career requires a unique form of preparation. So determine what career you’re aiming for first and don’t bother wasting time and money on training that won’t benefit it. Choose the training that’s right for you.
2. Can I afford college?
I realize that student loans are the norm these days, but they’re also ruining people’s lives.
The average national student debt is almost $30,000. Among student loan borrowers, 20% said their loans delayed their ability to get married, 30% said their loans prevented them from starting a family, and 50% said they couldn’t buy a home because of their student loans.
Life is so much bigger than college or even your career. And if you hastily choose to go to college on borrowed money, you may find yourself regretting that decision in 20 years when you realize those loans are preventing you from living the life you went to college to build in the first place.
Fortunately, debt isn’t your only option.
It’s a rare day indeed when a student pays the exact sticker price for their education. Often, if you’re not savvy, you’ll end up spending a whole lot more. But if you are savvy,you can spend a whole lot less. We should know—that’s what we do all the time! Using a variety of methods, such as affordable transfer credit and in-depth degree planning, Pearson Accelerated Pathways’ admissions advisors help students cut their degree costs in half and graduate debt free.
Making college affordable is possible—it just takes some effort.
Think about it: you’re signing up to spend the next four years (at least) in the classroom. If that sounds like hell, don’t do it.
Not only would you be torturing yourself, but it’s likely your sheer dislike for what you’re doing would cause your performance to struggle. Your personal life would suffer, and you’d likely end up dropping out anyway—which means throwing away a ton of time and money.
If you hate school, but you’re willing to make the sacrifice to get the job you want, then more power to you! But in most cases, if formal education isn’t for you, the jobs that follow aren’t either. If you dislike formal education, we recommend you reconsider your career choice—maybe do some job shadowing, volunteer, or talk to professionals in the field—to ensure that choice is really for you before jumping into college.
How to Figure Out a Career Path
Whether or not you should go to college depends entirely on what you want to do and how you can best prepare for that future. But what if you still don’t know what you want to do? If you’re still trying to decide on a career path, consider the following steps:
Get a job.
Start earning basic work experience in a job that doesn’t require a degree. You’ll get both a head start on your resume and a good perspective of the real world (outside of school).
Get an internship.
Find an internship or volunteer in a field you’re interested in. You’ll be able to learn about that field firsthand and get some hands-on experience for your resume too!
Find someone working a job you think you may want and strike up a conversation! Ask what they like and don’t like about their job, and hear their own opinions on what it takes to “make it.”
Seek counsel or mentorship.
Sometimes it’s worth talking to someone who has seen a lot more of the world, even if they’re not working in your field of choice. They might have the perspective you need to develop a wise plan for moving forward. (Your parents are a great choice for this; however, they may be too emotionally invested in your decisions to provide the clarity you need. In addition, consider talking to a close adult friend, academic counselor, or church leader.)
Or consider working with a career counselor. Career counselors are an invaluable resource for individuals who are still trying to map out their employment and career goals. You can also take a free career test. Career tests consist of a variety of questions designed to home in on your interests and personality traits, which are used to match you with possible career choices.
Start learning on your own.
You don’t need to be enrolled in college to learn. Find online resources likeKhan Academy,Lynda,Codecademy,Udemy, or another, and just start! Use this time to assess what career and lifestyle you want, as well as the best way to achieve it.
I know that one quick blog post isn’t enough to help you finalize a decision this big. No amount of reading other people’s opinions for and against college will truly help you make this decision. But hopefully this has at least helped you get started.
Fortunately, as long as you take time to think through your options and begin broadening your life experiences, you’re headed in the right direction. Just consider carefully and make the wisest choice you can with the information you have.
If you want some more help figuring out your college path, be sure to check out some of our other posts!
Return on investment (ROI) is a fancy term for “getting what you pay for.” While this concept is well known in the business world, it’s useful to apply the concept to any large investment, including college.
Calculating the ROI for your degree means asking yourself: “Is a BA in Elementary Education from a well-known private school worth the $150,000 I’m spending on it?”
Alice didn’t ask herself that question. That expensive private school was her dream, so she enrolled fresh out of high school (borrowing more than she knew she should in loans to do so). Upon graduating, she was hired as a 4th-grade teacher at a public school, making just over $37,400 a year.
This number would have seemed like a fortune to Alice, as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school. Now that she’s been living on her own for a few years, and does all her own grocery shopping, let’s just say she understands why teachers are often unhappy with their salaries.
After taxes and the regular costs of living, Alice is lucky to have $600 of discretionary income left over each month. She would love to tuck part of that away in a savings account and use the other for going out, Christmas gifts, car repairs, and so on. But how big are those monthly student loan payments again?
Alice failed to calculate the ROI on her teaching degree before it was too late. Had she done so, she may have realized that spending $150,000 to pursue a profession that pays a $30,000 annual salary wasn’t the best use of her hard-earned dollars.
If you want to actually afford things once you graduate college, rather than throwing money into what feels like a never-ending black hole of debt, start by calculating your degree’s real-life value.
Simply stated, ROI means “return on investment,” and understanding your college degree’s return on investment is important. Why? Because it can help you understand whether enrolling in X major at Y school makes sound financial sense.
Calculating return on investment is as simple as researching how much money your desired career is likely to bring in, and deciding for yourself how much you’re willing to spend preparing for it. But, since lists are such nice, helpful things, let’s walk through the process step by step.
I know this goes against every brochure you’ve received in the mail, but it’s true. For some reason, modern society thinks “educated” and “credentialed” mean the same thing. They don’t. There are millions of jobs in the United States that don’t require any kind of higher education. Many of them pay really well, and any one of them can provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction if it’s a good vocational fit for you.
Alternatively, there are some professional degrees (for example, in cinematography) that may be better pursued outside of a classroom. If you want to learn how to make a movie, don’t spend your time consuming outdated material and using outdated technology. Buy a camera and start filming. Intern or volunteer on movie sets and at film festivals. Connect with people who are making movies and learn from them.
If you think a career like this (one that doesn’t require a college education) may be your path, skip the degree for now. Save thousands of dollars and invest your time and money by launching your career instead!
Skipping the classroom is a relatively low-risk way for you to explore whatever opportunity you think is most satisfying, especially if you’re young and single. And if you find out that career option isn’t actually a good fit, college will still be there.
2. Research the starting salaries of careers.
If the career path you’re interested in would benefit from a college degree, start digging into the numbers. What kind of money will this career actually earn?
These websites give you an estimation of how much money various jobs earn. And they don’t just give you median estimates, but beginning and advanced earnings estimates too. There are plenty of resources like these on the internet, so log on and learn what you can.
Thinking of going into a profession that doesn’t churn out a lot of money? Don’t let that hold you back. That’s why you’re doing this exercise in the first place. Just use that data to inform your college spending (i.e., keep your college costs as low as possible). It’s a lot easier to get into a low-income profession that you’re passionate about if you’re not weighed down by student loan payments.
3. Compare your starting salary to your college costs.
Start by deciding how much money you’re willing to spend on your education. Considering how much she brought home upon graduation, Alice probably should have spent closer to $40,000 for her degree, not $150,000. Not only will a $40,000 degree require far smaller student loan payments upon graduation—good if she’s only making $30k—but she’s also much more likely to be able to afford $40,000 (paid over four years) without incurring debt in the first place.
I know you were probably hoping for an exact formula or a “magic number,” but the harsh truth is: There isn’t one. No one can tell you what your education is worth to you. And no one besides you knows what you can really afford.
The purpose of this exercise is to open your eyes to the big picture so you don’t end up like Alice, taking on mile-high student loans you will have no hope of ever paying off through your salary.
4. Find the most affordable way to earn your degree.
Fortunately, comparing the return on investment of college isn’t simply an exercise in reading labels. You have a lot more control over your college costs than you may realize.
The United States is home to over 5,000 colleges, offering very similar degrees at a wide variety of price points. It’s likely with a little research, you can find exactly the degree you want at exactly the price you’re willing to pay.
Granted, sorting through 5,000 schools by hand can be a pain (especially when many offer over 100 degree choices), so here are some basic tips.
Public schools are almost always cheaper than private schools
In-state tuition is almost always cheaper than out-of-state
General degrees (such as English, communication, general management) are almost always cheaper (and more useful) than highly specialized choices
Take time to compare school prices, especially those of the smaller schools you may have overlooked. Don’t just blindly enroll in your parent’s alma mater.
Is a Degree Worth It?
Going to college is expensive. How expensive depends on a variety of factors, such as whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student, or if you attend a public or private university. Things like switching majors, losing credits due to transferring schools, and taking extra time to complete your education can all impact how much you’ll spend on your degree. On average, most college graduates amass more than $30,000 in student loan debt.
At this point, you may be wondering if the time and money you’ll spend attending college is even worth it—because, as we mentioned earlier, there are some career paths that don’t require a degree (i.e., electrician, steelworker, executive assistant, etc.) But the answer as to whether college degrees have a measurable ROI, is a resounding “yes.”
The bottom line is this: If you plan on pursuing a career where a degree is needed, then yes, going to college is absolutely worth the expense.
College and Planning for Debt
Sooner or later, all this pre-college financial planning begs the question: “How much debt is worth it?”
College should be an exciting opportunity that propels you into your future in a reasonable timeframe! It shouldn’t be a debt sentence. That’s why we here at Accelerated Pathways work so hard to help our students lower the cost of college and graduate 100% debt free.
So, as you’re performing this research, looking for a way to get the best ROI on your college degree, don’t be fooled into asking “How much debt is worth it?” Instead ask, “How can I graduate debt free?”
Keep your eyes open for every way to save money on your degree. Live at home. Work during college. Take transfer credit so you can pay for one class at a time. There are nearly endless ways to make college more affordable. You may need to put in a little extra effort to find them, but isn’t a debt-free future worth it?
Carl was a revolutionary psychotherapist who valued a client-centered approach to personal development. Since he practiced these client-centered techniques not just in the office, but in the classroom too, the event organizers thought Carl’s unique viewpoint would prove a valuable asset to the hundreds of teachers attending their conference.
The participants disagreed. Tempers rose as Carl continued his short speech.
“I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.”
In 1952, this idea threatened the very foundation of the educational and work systems which held society together. At that time, school was a place of facts and figures. Jobs were a place those facts and figures were put to use. Such was the way of the world.
As long as a child did well in school, as long as a young adult pursued a solid education, as long as a person did not stray from the “proper path,” things would work out well. They would be happy, wealthy, and generally live the American Dream.
However, the sudden popularity and sharp rise of psychotherapy in the late twentieth century seemed to argue against this long-held, industrialized perspective.
The Value of Thinking
When Carl spoke at Harvard about student-centered learning, he wasn’t concerned with facts and figures. He wasn’t concerned with the specifics of what a student learned or the various study methods which could help or hinder retention.
“When I try to teach, as I do sometimes, I am appalled by the results, which seem a little more than inconsequential, because sometimes the teaching appears to succeed. When this happens I find that the results are damaging. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning. Hence I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful.”
When it came to education, Carl wasn’t concerned with test scores. He was most concerned with a student’s ability to become a free-thinking, free-acting agent. Someone who is able to think critically and creatively, and—most importantly—who is able to trust their own conclusions. He wanted his students to become adults.
Through his practice with patients and his experience as an educator, Rogers learned first-hand the damage that could be done when a person refused to think for himself. He saw the damage done to underdeveloped students who were taught to put away their brains and listen blindly to their teachers.
He wasn’t arguing that education was wrong. He wasn’t arguing that there is no place for a teacher. He was proposing what, at the time, was a radical idea: teaching—to impart knowledge and change onto another person—is impossible.
In Carl’s opinion, learning was the goal of education. And this is a process a teacher has little control over.
Only One Person Can Control your Education
Believe it or not, Carl’s intention wasn’t to up-end the education system. He wasn’t interested in firing teachers, and—despite what those teachers thought as they fumed in their seats—he wasn’t trying to make their jobs obsolete.
His message was simple.
“Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be communicated to another. As soon as an individual tries to communicate such experience directly, often with a quite natural enthusiasm, it becomes teaching, and its results are inconsequential. ”
Of course, learning facts is important. Exposing oneself to new ideas, history, literature, science, and all manner of education is an amazing opportunity. And we need educated, passionate individuals to dedicate their lives to learning, gathering, and bringing this information to light. We need knowledgeable facilitators to offer what they have learned to the next generation. We need teachers.
However, the learning process itself—assimilating information, testing your limits, growing as a person, thinking and reasoning, trusting oneself and one’s conclusions, being unafraid in unknown situations—all of this can only be gained by the efforts of one person. You.
So if you think your future is in the hands of your teacher, if you think the quality of your education depends on the school you’re attending, the textbook you pick up, or the people feeding you information, you are wrong.
The only person who can ensure you become truly, usefully, meaningfully educated is yourself.
Accelerated Pathways has a history of attracting dedicated students. And when I say dedicated, I mean graduate-in-2-years-or-less dedicated.
That may sound a little intimidating (not to mention a lot impossible), but it’s true. Our students have the unique ability to graduate on their time schedule—and sometimes that means really darn fast.
But let me be clear. These exceptional, get ‘er done students aren’t attending classes 24/7. They’re not sleeping at their desks or neglecting their families in order to study.
They’ve simply taken advantage of alternative forms of earning college credit. They’ve traded in classrooms and lecture halls for lots of reading and a single final exam.
Enter the DSST.
DSST: A History
The DSST originated in 1974 as the U.S. Department of Defence’s way to help military personnel earn college credit. As you can imagine, serving in the military makes attending class a tad difficult, so the Department of Defence created a way for those in service to learn college material outside of the classroom, then prove their knowledge of a subject with a single test.
DSSTs (also known as Dantes exams) are competency-based exams, meaning they award college credit not based on the hours a student spent in a classroom, but by the cumulative knowledge demonstrated.
In 2004, however, these tests were made available to the general public and now serve as yet another way for self-motivated, goal-oriented college students to pick up speed as they race toward the finish line. And at approximately $130 a pop—that’s $43 per credit hour—they also reign as some of the cheapest alternative credit sources available.
Still interested in taking a DSST? Here’s everything you need to know:
Study methods for DSST vary, but not by much, and the materials aren’t hard to come by. Our Unbound coaches recommend:
While these resources are probably enough to suffice, taking a competency-based exam is always something of a gamble. There’s no way to know exactly which questions will be asked on a test, or which specifics they’ll choose to cover. So if you’re going to make DSSTs a part of your self-paced college experiment, be thorough. Study hard, and be sure you can pass a couple of DSST practice tests before scheduling your exam.
Once you think you’re ready, just head to DSST’s website to purchase and schedule your exam at a testing center near you.
DSSTs are multiple choice, pass/fail exams—pretty much the most considerate college exams you could ask for.
Once you begin your exam, you have 2 hours to answer 80-120 questions. Unlike the SAT, DSST exams don’t punish you for an incorrect answer. Instead, your final score is tallied by counting the number of correct answers you choose and simply ignoring the incorrect answers. The pro tip for testers here is: if you draw a blank on a question, it’s better to guess than not answer. As I said, these are the most considerate college tests you could ask for.
But just because they’re nice doesn’t mean they’re easy. For example, DSST’s “Civil War and Reconstruction” test boasts a pass rate of only 46%. Testing out of a whole semesters worth of advanced content isn’t a walk in the park.
The passing score for a DSST is 400 with the highest attainable score being 500. Unless your test requires a written essay (some do), your score will by auto-calculated and you’ll get your results as soon as you complete the exam.
Transfering Your DSST Credit
So far, so good. DSSTs are a wonderfully cheap and convenient way to earn credit—especially if you already have experience with the subject.
Where DSSTs most often fail is transferability. Credit-by-exam, in general, is not as widely accepted by colleges as a student might hope.
The American Council on Education (ACE), a well-respected educational advisor, has recommended that each DSST is worth 3 college credits in a certain study area—upper or lower level, depending on the depth of the given material. That gives these tests some serious heft!
However, it’s still up to the college to decide whether or not they will honor this recommendation and award you with said credit.
This means taking a DSST is not a guarantee of earning credit at every college. So, what do you do? Just skip this amazing opportunity altogether because it’s a little risky?
No. Instead, you take the risk out of the equation. You have two options for doing this:
Option 1: Do the Research
Most colleges post their transfer credit policies online. With a little digging, you can use this to understand whether or not your college will honor the DSST you’re interested in taking. Just make sure it also aligns with your particular degree requirements. (You can learn more about transferring credit by reading “How to Transfer Colleges Without Losing Credit.”)
Or, if you don’t want to go through the painstaking research of aligning a DSST with a particular course code only to find out you made some mistake along the way…
Option 2: Let Us Do the Research
Negotiating transfer policies and building fool-proof, debt-free degree plans is what we do every day.
So if you’re interested in taking DSSTs (or any other form of alternative credit) as part of your self-directed college education, we can ensure you’re doing it right. We’ll help you take inexpensive credit that helps you reach your goals and is guaranteed to be honored by the college you want to graduate from.
If this blog post has scared or made you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of taking on so much responsibility when it comes to your education, DSST might not be for you.
That’s okay! Not everyone is cut out for this kind of learning—in fact, most of us aren’t. Perhaps a more structured approach to independent learning, like self-paced online courses, will be more your style.
However, if you’re a self-directed learner who doesn’t need a classroom to thrive, are eager to take on the brunt of the educational process, and are willing to go above and beyond to research colleges and transfer policies (or enlist the help of someone like Accelerated Pathways), DSSTs might be your golden ticket.
Pick a test, study hard, and in no time you’ll be on your way to graduating college in 2 years or less.
By sophomore year, I was done. High school was putting me to sleep. I was tired of studying subjects I didn’t care about and slaving over courses I knew I’d just retake in college.
I had always been something of an early bloomer, so even at 16, I was excited to leave high school behind and start college. And fortunately for me, the flexibility of homeschooling made graduating high school early a real possibility.
So I did it.
I condensed subjects into semesters instead of years, and I got pretty good grades (even if I don’t remember a thing from Latin 2). Part of my “early graduation” plan involved exchanging as many high school courses as I could for transferrable dual credit—jumping that much further ahead.
I graduated high school at 17 years old with 12 college credits to my name.
If this is something you’ve been longing to do, dear high schooler, take heart. Graduating early is hard. But it’s a completely realistic goal, especially if you’re homeschooled. But before you kick yourself into high gear, take a beat. This isn’t the end of the story.
The day after my “graduation” (an informal family celebration featuring the best egg rolls in town), I realized I had a problem. I finished high school… but now what?
I didn’t have the money for college yet. And while I had my sights on an English degree, was I sure that was the right major for me? What exactly did I want to do after college? I had been so laser-focused on graduating early that only upon succeeding did I realize my path forward wasn’t so clear….
To avoid ending up where I did when your early graduation rolls around, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I know what I want?
Graduating high school means more than just receiving a diploma. It means leaving your childhood behind. You know what comes after childhood? Adulthood. You know what comes with adulthood? Responsibility. And consequences.
I’m not saying this to scare you. Trust me, I think being an adult is awesome. But if you’re not careful, jumping in before you’re ready could leave you with some serious baggage to work through later in life.
Let’s take the example of college.
If you’re planning to jump into college right after high school, you’ll need to know at least 2 things first:
Even if you’re not destined for college, you should still have a post-graduation plan. Maybe you’ve been working somewhere part-time and want to move to full-time hours. Maybe you’ve got a trade school in mind, or an apprenticeship you want to pursue, or a mission you’d like to embark on. You should at least have more of a plan than staying home and playing League of Legends. Unless you’re a professional League player. In which case, # respect.
If you don’t have any idea what you want to do after high school (which is totally normal and okay, by the way), consider graduating in the usual 4 years so you can use your free time for self-discovery.
Get an after-school job, join teams, take a college class that excites you, shadow someone with a job you’re interested in, pursue that creative project you’ve been putting off—do whatever it is you feel drawn to do.
That way, even if you don’t graduate early, you’ll be graduating with a purpose, which is always better than the alternative.
2. Will graduating early affect my scholarship eligibility?
Many on-campus programs offer generous scholarships for freshmen that aren’t available to transfer students. If you plan to enroll in a university immediately after graduation, then you probably have nothing to worry about here.
However, if you were planning to make a pit stop at your local community college after high school, you run the risk of losing your freshman status. In this case, it might be better to stay enrolled in high school and pursue dual credit instead. This will still allow you to get ahead in school, but without losing that all-important freshman status. (Bonus: some states even offer free dual credit to high school students. Win-win!)
Keep in mind, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Eligibility requirements vary from scholarship to scholarship. And any time transfer credit enters the picture—dual credit or otherwise—it’s wise to make a credit-transfer plan. That way you can be aware of your college’s transfer policies and your future degree’s requirements before getting started, which will give that hard-earned credit the best shot at transferring well.
3. Have I talked to a counselor?
Everyone needs a little help when making big life decisions. And graduating high school early definitely qualifies as a big life decision.
Talk to your parents, teachers, mentors—any adult who you respect and who knows you well. Talk to them about your ideas, your plans, and the motivation behind those ideas and plans. Ask if they have any advice for you.
I was never good at making friends. Growing up, I was shy, self-conscious, and generally felt like my few friends made me, rather than the other way around. This was fortunately never much of a problem… until I reached my twenties.
Suddenly, I found myself living alone in a city wherein I only knew a handful of people: two ex-boyfriends and their families. (Talk about slim pickings.) To top it off, I was working a remote job, so I didn’t even have an office to walk into every day.
My situation wasn’t unlike that of the average online college student. Lonely and disconnected, how was I supposed to make friends when I didn’t have a traditional institution, like a school or a workplace, to help me?
I considered simply sitting in my apartment and sulking my days away. But after a couple months of doing just that (hey, I have my bad seasons too), I decided it probably wasn’t the most mature course of action. So, eventually, I took the plunge and—gulp—made some friends.
Intentionally seeking out friendships ended up being one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. But now, one year later, my world feels like it’s flipped upside down. Far from being stuck at home day in and day out, I’m often saying “no” to invitations because I simply don’t have room in my calendar. I’ve begun building a real life, a real community, from nothing. Slowly but surely, this formerly lonely city is feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever lived.
Turns out I didn’t need a workplace or college campus to help me build a community, and you don’t either. If you’re an online college student—or considering becoming one—here are 10 ways to ensure your college experience is just as socially enriching as anything you could expect from a campus.
1. Look around.
When it comes to making friends, the biggest advantage of a campus is propinquity (that’s a fancy word for “being physically near other people”). On a college campus, you run into people everywhere—in class, on the grounds, in the cafeteria, at your dorm, in the library, at events. Online students, however, tend to spend a lot of their time at home. So, to replicate this aspect of the college experience, start by finding ways to create propinquity.
Meetup.com, sports leagues, tabletop gaming stores, Facebook events, book clubs, internships, volunteer opportunities, in-person classes at a local college (audit or transfer them into your degree), classes for a hobby you like or want to like, a part-time job—there are endless ways to be around people that don’t involve a campus.
Start by thinking of something you like to do, then look online to see if other people in your area also do that thing.
2. Just pick something.
If you’re a perfectionist, like myself, you might find yourself paralyzed by the list of options I mentioned above. What if you choose the “wrong thing”? What if it’s not fun? What if you don’t like the people you meet? Will you be stuck going to a weekly meetup group even if you don’t think it’s a good fit?
This advice is for both of us—don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. There’s no magical “best place” to meet people. Whatever event or group you try, you’re not signing up to attend it regularly for the rest of your life. You’re only committing to show up one time. If you like it, you can go back! If you don’t, you can try something else next time.
3. Keep trying.
While you don’t have to go back to the first group you try, you probably should.
Jumping from group to group in search of that elusive “perfect fit” just means you’re always the newbie, no matter where you go. Like I mentioned earlier, you’ll never find a perfect group of perfect people. So unless you got a really bad vibe the first time, give this group a chance. Show up to events over and over again until your newbie status starts to wear off, and you realize that suddenly these new friends feel a lot more like old ones.
4. Take the lead.
Waiting for someone to introduce themselves is a great way to stay disconnected. Turns out, humans are pretty skittish creatures. But you know what your dad always said about skittish creatures; they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.
So take the lead. Always assume that if you want friends, you have to make them. Step up and introduce yourself. Yes, it’s super uncomfortable. Yes, it’s super scary… if that’s what’s holding you back, you might not like my next piece of advice.
5. Know it’s always scary.
Sorry, there’s just no way around it. Meeting new people wouldn’t be any less scary if you were on a campus. The only difference is on a campus, it’s harder to hide. As an online student, there’s nothing pushing you to step outside of your comfort zone. You have to choose to do it.
While you can’t make social anxiety retreat entirely, you can at least make it tolerable by lowering your own expectations of yourself. Don’t go into a brand-new group planning to meet everyone. Just meet one person. And don’t worry about being BFFs by the time you leave either. Just have a conversation.
It will be uncomfortable. It will be awkward. You may not know what to talk about at first, and you may come away feeling like a fool. But the only way to get better at something is to be willing to be bad at it first. So let yourself be bad at it. Get some practice. Eventually, it’ll become a little less scary. (Probably.)
While uncomfortable first conversations are often inevitable, these can be made dramatically less awkward by simply caring about the other person.
Don’t just try to “survive” the conversation. Make an effort to actually get to know the person you’re talking to. What’s their story? Where were they born? What is their family like? What are they majoring in? Where do they work? What do they enjoy doing outside of work? Who are they watching/reading/listening to? What are their life goals? What inspired them to pursue those goals? What are they good at? What are they bad at?
Any one of these questions might help you discover a natural way to connect with whoever you’re talking to, transforming your conversation into—well—a conversation, rather than simply a barrage of questions.
7. Assume they care too.
While asking questions is great, no one likes being interrogated. Be willing to talk about yourself too. This means assuming the other person is interested in listening—because, usually, they are.
So if, in your attempt to get to know them, you learn about something that clicks with you—maybe you grew up in the same town or you like the same books—be willing to share your own experience. This is how natural connections form.
And if nothing clicks? That’s okay, it might take a few conversations (even with the same person) before you really connect. Of course, some people just never click with you at all, and that’s okay too. You don’t have to be friends with everyone.
8. Don’t be picky.
I’m 25 years old, and one of my very best friends just turned 60. Just because a person doesn’t seem like a good fit for you doesn’t necessarily mean that you weren’t somehow made for each other.
While it is important to find friends who are experiencing the same stage of life as you, don’t pass up the opportunity to meet someone completely different. College is all about trying new things, meeting new people, gaining new experiences, and being exposed to new ideas. What better way to do all of that then to make a friend you never would have imagined for yourself?
9. Be hospitable.
Once you’ve met a few people you click with, take things a step further! Invite them to a movie, host a game night, or, if you’ve found other online students, meet up at Starbucks for a study group. This is a great way to get to know people better and let them know you’re interested in being more than just a casual acquaintance.
Community isn’t just about meeting up at events. It’s about living life together. So if it’s a deep connection you’re after, allow one to take root by inviting people into your life and just seeing what happens. Over time, you might find that all your hard work allowed you to cultivate something truly one-of-a-kind.
10. Be patient.
Friends aren’t made overnight. Especially if you’re starting from scratch, you’ll still have to face your fair share of lonely evenings and boring Saturdays. But that’s just part of life, regardless of how many friends you have.
Paradoxical as it sounds, one of the most valuable skills I learned in my attempt to make friends was how to enjoy being alone. Initially, I wanted to make friends because I didn’t like being alone. I wanted to avoid it as much as possible. So, I started pouring a lot of effort into reaching out, meeting new people, suffering through awkward conversation, and being the newbie at events. This lead to me feeling frustrated at my “lack of immediate results.” I wanted friends now, but that’s just not how it works.
After finally realizing that community-building would take some time—that I’d just have to keep showing up before I felt like part of a group—I started doing what I could to make solitude something I genuinely enjoyed. I started hanging out with myself the way I’d want to hang out with a friend. For me, that meant cooking myself nice dinners, going for walks, visiting new parks or restaurants, shopping, reading fascinating books, and even getting into a crazy skincare regimen that one of my long-distance friends swore by.
Learning to enjoy (and even look forward to) being alone made it so much easier for me to be patient and allow my new relationships to grow in their own time. Plus, I ended up making one of the best friends of all—myself!
If you were hoping this post would make friendship-building sound easy, I’m sorry to disappoint. In my experience, building a community from scratch involves a lot of lonely social outings, awkward conversations, expended energy, and just plain work and patience.
So why do it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just… go to a campus?
Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn’t. Meeting new people is almost never fun (unless you’re a super extrovert), and while going to a campus might give you a little extra push out of your comfort zone, it’s important to remember that college eventually ends. People move. Jobs change. The friends you make now won’t necessarily be around forever. Eventually, you’ll have to make new ones, which means you’ll still have to face everything we’ve already talked about in this post.
So why not just do it now?
Yes, it’s hard. Adulthood is hard. Get over it. Better yet, step into it. Taking the advice in this post will help you do more than just build a community now; it’ll give you the skills to build one wherever life takes you.
Isn’t an entire lifetime of future friends worth a little discomfort in the present?
But being so thoroughly familiar with the ins and outs of the college system doesn’t do us any good unless we’re sharing that knowledge with readers like you.
In this post, I’ve gathered every Accelerated Pathways blog post that can help answer the question “how does college work?”
Whether you’re hoping to get started on your scholarship search or just want to know what in the world “PSY 134” means, we’ve got your back. Our goal with this post is to take the confusion out of college.
If you’re considering college, it’s important to know how the system works, especially if you’re hoping to transfer colleges at any point. That all starts with knowing how bachelor’s degrees are structured.
So, how are you to know what level of education you need? Is a high school diploma enough? Is the master’s degree really the new bachelor’s? Do you need a Ph.D. in order to be taken seriously in your field? Let’s figure it out.
Community college isn’t guaranteed to save you money. But if you’re savvy about how it works, it miiiiight be an okay option. Here are 8 ways to ensure you’re not throwing your money away on community college.
Dual credit is kind of like kale and Christmas decorations–too much of a good thing is indeed... too much. It is easy to get carried away earning college credits that won’t ultimately apply to your chosen degree. But how many should you take?
Advanced Placement courses or dual enrollment are two great options for earning dual credit in high school—but which is better for your student? In this article, we discuss the differences between them to help you answer this question.
Transfer credit can be an efficient way to save thousands on college... as long as you know those courses will transfer. But how do you know which courses will transfer before taking them? The answer: college course codes.
40% community college students tend to lose most of their credit upon transfer, but you don’t have to be one of them. This post teaches you the steps you can take to ensure your community college credit transfers safely to your bachelor’s degree.
What if FAFSA? How does financial aid work? What does "aid" even mean? In this post, one of our very own Admissions Counselors answers these questions and demystifies the term "financial aid" once and for all.
What is a 529 savings plan? How does it differ from a prepaid tuition plan? Are these things you should have? And if you do have one, what can you do with it? In this post, we answer all these questions and more.
Students often assume student loans will be an inevitable part of their college experience. But they don't have to be. Here are 4 very real, very helpful things you can do to ensure you graduate debt free.
If you’re stressing about choosing a major, you’re not alone. This free ebook, What Should I Major In, will walk you through every step you need to consider when picking a college major, so you can begin your studies with confidence!
Is trying to pick a major stressing you out? Put down the pros and cons list and stop Googling every emphasis, minor, and elective you find. Here’s why your college major doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
As an artistic book worm, I was an unlikely accountant for sure. However, by pursuing this most unlikely degree choice, I discovered accountants are more than stern, semi-monastic gurus of great financial mysteries. They're organizers on steroids.
Like any artistic endeavor, music isn’t a surefire way to secure a comfortable job with status and money to spare. You’re often going to be working twice as hard for half as much, all for your heartfelt love of the chromatic scale. Will a music degree give you the extra edge you need?
Leadership in its simplest form is beneficial, proactive influence. Even if you’re an entry-level employee at a coffee shop, movie theater, or fast casual restaurant, you can take the initiative and show leadership.
College is important. Especially in today’s society, with so many jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree as a minimum bar to entry. But is it important for you? This can be a challenging question to answer...
Every high schooler hears the same old speech. "No money for college? Scholarships are your golden ticket!"
But don’t you have to be some kind of high school super genius to get a scholarship? Not necessarily. There are literally millions of scholarships available for up-and-coming college students, and almost as many ways to earn them. It just takes time and effort to find them, which is exactly want to help you with.
What is a Scholarship?
The short answer: money awarded to a student for the purpose of academic study. At first glance, scholarships, grants, and financial aid sound pretty similar. However, they have a few key differences:
Financial aid is the blanket term for any financial assistance a student may need for college—whether that help comes in the form of a grant, loan, or scholarship.
Grants are “free money” typically awarded based on the student’s financial needs. They don’t need to be paid back. Student loans are borrowed money that is basically freely available to anyone, and they do need to be paid back. With interest.
Scholarships fall into neither of these categories. Scholarships are privately-funded, free gifts of money. They’re not just given to anyone, but unlike grants, scholarships must be earned.
Types of Scholarships
When I was a student considering scholarship application, I imagined getting a full ride to whichever college wanted me most. While this kind of scholarship does exist, it’s by no means the only kind you can win. (Which is good… because it’s really hard to get one of those.)
The full spectrum of scholarships range from just a couple hundred bucks to thousands and thousands of dollars, and it’s not just colleges who award them. Communities, religious institutions, and even private citizens all want you to earn your degree. And they’ll help you out a lot, if you can prove you deserve it.
Here are your basic scholarship categories:
Academic Scholarships - awarded based on academic performance throughout high school
Athletic Scholarships - awarded based on performance in a sport
Minority Scholarships - awarded to students who ethnically represent a minority
Women Scholarships - awarded to women (typically career-minded ones)
Creative Scholarships - awarded to students of the arts based on artistic performance
Community Service Scholarships - awarded based on leadership or involvement in the community
Competition Scholarships - awarded based on performance in a competition
Unusual Scholarships - awarded for literally anything else... like your ability to make a killer duck call or write a good essay about fire sprinklers. (Yes, those are both real scholarships. Google them.)
How to Find and Apply for Scholarships
Okay, so understanding scholarships isn’t that difficult. What about actually landing one? Since I’m not a scholarship expert, I decided to get advice from someone who is.
Rebecca Decker, one of our Academic Counselors, has helped thousands of students navigate the “how do I pay for college” question for over 7 years. She’s coached hundreds of students through the scholarship application process, so I figured she’d be the perfect person to ask for advice.
Rebecca recommended a simple, 3-step process that will not only ensure you’re covering all your bases, but it’ll also remove the giant ball of stress churning in your stomach.
1. Have a Plan of Attack
Rebecca recommends starting the application process the summer after your Junior year of high school. However, it’s not as simple as just starting.
Applying for scholarship after scholarship can be long and grueling, and the worst part is every scholarship is a little different. Most require essays, many require letters of recommendation, and some require even more work beyond even that.
If earning a college scholarship is important to you and your future, you can’t go in blind. You need a plan.
Unfortunately, predicting how many scholarships you’ll actually earn is nigh impossible. But you can at least decide how much effort you’ll be putting into the application process.
You can choose how much time to invest, how many scholarships you’ll apply for, etc.
When she was a student, Rebecca’s personal goal was to apply for 3 scholarships every Friday night. She treated it like a job. No matter how long it took, her responsibility was to apply for 3 scholarships every Friday night.
Once you’ve created your plan of attack, share it with your parents. Not only can they help keep you accountable, but this will also set firm expectations of how much effort you’re putting into this process. No one should be left resenting your “lack of effort” when the tuition bills start rolling in.
2. Sign Up With a Search Engine
The best way for the modern student to apply for scholarships is to use any of the million and one scholarship search engines that populate the web.
Some students think it’s advantageous to set up and manage profiles on multiple engines, but the truth is each engine typically searches the same pool of available scholarships. So save yourself the headache by sticking with just one or two.
When I asked Rebecca which scholarship search engine she recommended, she didn’t hesitate for a second: fastweb.com. This site has you complete a general questionnaire when you set up your profile. Based on your answers, it will filter your view of the 1.5 million scholarships available, giving you easy access to every scholarship you’re eligible for.
Setting up the account is easy. But remember it doesn’t actually submit the applications for you—that’s your job.
3. Make It Happen
You couldn’t apply for a scholarship because someone hasn’t finished a reference letter? That’s not a good excuse. Remember, finding scholarships is 100% your project, and it’s up to you to make sure it happens on time.
Your teachers and friends are busy people, and they may not have the time or brain space to write five reference letters for you.
Take the lead and make the process easy for everyone: ask your reference-givers to each write a single letter and give them a deadline (nicely). Get permission to mass-produce it and then print out multiple copies with a note at the bottom stating you were given permission to mass-produce. Once you’ve printed out as many letters as you think you’ll need, bring the stack back to the author, so they can sign the copies all at once.
Winning scholarships takes effort, but with good leadership and creative organization, you can make the whole process easier on everyone involved.
If you really want to earn that money, leave your excuses behind and make things happen.
I wish I could tell you exactly what to apply for and how to write a winning essay. But the fact is, since the scholarship pool is so varied, the best thing you can do is follow the steps outlined above and just jump in.
However, I can leave you with one final piece of advice: while scholarships are a great way to pay for college, they may not be the best way.
Applying for scholarships is a lot of work, often for very little reward. Pushing for a free ride to a $40,000 a year school may simply be unfeasible. So in addition to earning scholarship money, consider lowering your overall college costs in other ways.
I have a confession to make: I don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
I know, I know. I’ve been working for Pearson—a company that literally exists to help put students through college—for over 6 years now. What excuse could I possibly have for not having my degree?
Listen… I’m totally in favor of people becoming more educated, developing wisdom, growing up, and participating in the privilege of higher education. I even participated myself for a while! I completed 96 credits of my 120-credit English degree, thank you very much. Of course, those 96 credits are hardly comforting when all I have to show for it is... a high school diploma.
I had some very specific reasons for leaving school, though. First off, I was going through a very intense time in my personal life. I had a lot to deal with emotionally and mentally, and I was breaking under the pressure of managing school on top of that. But secondly, after taking a hard look at my interests and the direction of my career, I realized… I already had the job I wanted. I didn’t need a bachelor’s degree to get in the door. And I was much more interested in pouring my time and energy into my work than I was in spending another few thousand dollars to finish up a degree I would never use.
So, I dropped out. It’s been three years since then, and I’m still doing just fine.
My choice was a fairly controversial one. The term “college dropout” bears an unfortunate stigma, so friends and family tend to get skittish when you float the idea. And they have good reason to. The bachelor’s degree has kind of become the new high school diploma—a minimum barrier to entry into much of the workforce. The vast majority of employers expect you to have one.
Call me a rebel, but I’ve never been one to do something simply because it’s expected.
But don’t think my choice to skip the degree means I’m handing you a Get Out of Jail Free card. I’m not going to tell you what to do with your life or education. I just want to have a little chat about the realities of choosing a job over college.
1. Skipping college is a legitimate option.
Let’s just get one thing cleared up right away: jumping straight into the workforce after high school isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. I realize that going to college is the assumed next step for most of us, but it’s still a choice. Choosing not to doesn’t make you stupid, lazy, or unwise. There are a lot of reasons skipping might be the best choice for you.
For one thing, college is expensive. When a year of college can cost as much as a downpayment on a house, it’s worth being absolutely certain it’s the right path for you.
After all, graduating college isn’t the only way to start a career. Over 60% of U.S. jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree. And a lot of those pay really well! If you’re interested in pursuing one of these fields, why spend time and energy earning a credential you don’t need?
Maybe you’re still interested in going because you want “the college experience.” I’ll give you that. Going to college does offer a lot of experience, not just within the classroom, but outside of it too. You get to live on your own, interact with people from other backgrounds, make choices (and mistakes) that teach you about yourself, the world, and life. But college isn’t the only way to get that experience.
Getting a job, meeting new people, serving, traveling, volunteering, getting married and having kids, taking up hobbies, starting a business—these are all great ways to engage in the myriad of non-scholastic opportunities life has to offer. None of them will earn you a credential, but they will make you more educated, wiser, and (hopefully) a better person.
And that’s great because, frankly, college just isn’t for everyone. Formal education is an amazing privilege, but not every learner thrives in the classroom environment. Plenty of students have difficulty fitting in with the structure of academic study. And for some people, that struggle is enough to snuff out their spark for learning. These folks often end up dropping out simply for the freedom of learning without a syllabus. 🙋🏻♀️
I’m not telling you any of this in order to discourage you from earning a bachelor’s degree. As I’ve mentioned already, I think college is a fantastic option for a great many people, especially those hoping to work in white-collar industries. I’m just saying that attending college shouldn’t be assumed.
2. You’re taking a risk.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with skipping college, it’s not a decision you want to make lightly.
Bachelor’s degrees aren’t irrelevant. Many HR departments require applicants to hold one to even be considered for employment (whether or not the role requires such an education). Students who earn their bachelor’s degrees also tend to make more money than those who don’t. And while 60% of jobs may not require a degree… that means that 40% do.
Choosing not to earn your degree is definitely risky. So challenge your own decision. Ask yourself why you’re choosing a different path and carefully consider the consequences.
Perhaps your future career doesn’t require a degree. Cool. But what about the positions beyond the specific job you’re considering? Will you need that degree in order to move up?
Perhaps you just don’t like classroom-style learning. But what if you could complete a degree outside of the classroom? Would you do it then?
Perhaps college is too expensive. You don’t want to take out loans. What if you found a way to make it affordable?
Ask yourself the tough questions and answer them honestly. Leave every option on the table until you’ve determined what you need to prepare for the future you want. Is college the best way to reach your goals?
Only you can answer that.
3. Forgoing a degree now doesn’t mean you’ll never get one. (But it might make getting one harder.)
Don’t assume that skipping for now means skipping forever.
In fact, a year or two in the workforce may be exactly what you need to succeed in school: your life experience will undoubtedly influence what major you pick, what school you choose, how you choose to study, and where you go after graduation. (And, bonus, working a full-time job for a couple of years will help you save up the cash to afford that degree debt free.)
However, this does come with a caveat: going back to school once you’ve started working is really hard.
You’re making real money now and have probably acquired real expenses to go along with it. You’ve developed routines, cultivated a social life, and are spending a great deal of time simply keeping your life running smoothly. Going back to school will require some painful sacrifices.
This is one of the reasons so many students are encouraged to start college directly after high school. High school students are still used to the rhythm of studying full time and typically don’t have any conflicts of interest; doing well in school remains their top priority. So while it doesn’t have to be done this way, it is a bit easier.
You’re still very young. You don’t know what the future is going to hold. You don’t know for sure if you need degree. You do know that bachelor’s degrees are valuable, but you also know you need more than just a degree to reach your goals—you need experience too.
So why choose? Get both!
That’s the path I opted for by pursuing my degree through Accelerated Pathways. At the time, I was working 45 hours a week in a fast-food restaurant. I liked my job and was gaining great work experience. I didn’t want to give that up, but I also didn’t know what the future held. As much as I wanted the work experience, I also craved the security of a universally-respected credential.
Thanks to Accelerated Pathways' incredible flexibility, I didn’t have to choose.
I eventually took a job in sales which led to my current position, writing full time (i.e. my dream). Through each of these roles, Accelerated Pathways was able to keep me on track with my college studies without impeding my career growth. Plus, it was affordable enough that I never had to take out a student loan.
So even though I eventually chose not to finish, I was thankful that I didn’t have to make that choice before giving both working and studying a good “college try.” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Was working and studying full time difficult? Yes. But was it worth it? Absolutely. I gained so much confidence knowing I was working through my degree while building an impressive resume and portfolio of work I was proud to showcase. I knew no matter which direction my life turned, I was prepared.
So, at the risk of telling you what to do (even though I told you I wouldn’t), don’t be so quick to limit your options, especially if you don’t yet have a clear vision for your future. Find an option that allows you to pursue education and experience at the same time. Your path will likely become pretty darn clear pretty darn fast, which will give you the confidence you need to charge head-first into your future, whether that means finishing your degree or not.
Growing up, my family lived by the standard “no desserts before dinner” rule that every child under 15 knows all too well.
Now that I’m 23 and living on my own, when I decide to skip the veggies and sink my teeth into a deliciously moist bite of double chocolate cake with fudge frosting, should I be rebuked? Should my mother fly to Texas from her cozy Florida home and put me in Time Out?
Of course not, and for one simple reason: being 23 and living exactly 984 miles away from my parents is a pretty good indicator that I’m not a child anymore.
But what does that mean for all the childhood rules I grew up with?
Why Do We Have Rules?
Life is a series of choices. Facing adulthood means facing a lot of deep questions that you don’t know how to answer. For the first time, it’s actually up to you to answer them. Mom and Dad aren’t here to take away your cake.
That’s why we have rules.
Traditions and rules are a necessary part of a productive life. Having solid routines in place can help free a lot of brain space when deciding what’s for lunch or what time you should get up in the morning.
And they’re not just for simple routines, either. Society even gives us a general “life template” to follow: go to school, go to college, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, repeat.
This is often what people refer to as “the status quo.” And let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with following it.
But following a rule just because it’s there is not only silly, it’s downright absurd.
Each rule is made for a reason. Each is crafted to fit a specific situation. That means not every rule will apply to every situation, and not every rule will apply to you. In fact, many rules contradict each other!
Things change. Times change. People change. You change. And if your rules don’t change too, you run the risk of holding yourself back from fulfilling your unique purpose.
How to Break the Rules (Wisely)
So what exactly am I proposing? Throwing everything out and making up your own rules as you go along?
I guess that’s one way to do it, but it doesn’t seem much healthier than blindly following rules without question. You want to forge your own path, not get lost in the woods.
What I’m actually suggesting is this:
As you grow and change, as you’re faced with hard choices and possible new paths to walk, carefully revisit the old rules you feel are “holding you back.” Examine them, but don’t throw them out just yet.
Instead, use wisdom and prudence to carefully craft a new, revised set of rules that will help you reach your goal and become the person you want to be.
1. Understand Why a Rule Exists
As I mentioned before, rules are created for a reason. And no, that reason usually isn’t “wanting to ruin your fun.”
Most rules are put in place either to:
Protect you from something harmful
Push you toward something good
It’s likely that, as you grow and mature, specific rules themselves will no longer apply. Why? Because you have the wisdom and resources to either avoid a particular harm or partake in a particular good without needing a reminder.
Adults are allowed to eat dessert first.
But before you do, it’s wise to understand exactly what you’re giving up (or gaining) in the process. The dessert rule was set for a reason. In this case, to protect you from something that could hurt you.
Your parents didn’t want you losing your appetite, refusing to eat nutritious food, and becoming malnourished.
That’s easy deduction.
However, we can still dig a little further. Rules are often much more complex than we think, and they serve many different purposes at once. There are more benefits to giving dessert its proper place.
Prioritizing healthy food will improve your self image. It will also make your dessert taste better. And the small act of delaying gratification can build character and help you become a generally balanced and generous person.
There’s a surprising amount of depth and character development to be found in such a simple rule! And it’s these motivations that comprise the spirit of the rule.
What fundamental parts of your character is the rule shaping?
2. Examine your needs
Now that you understand the motivations behind the rules you’re questioning, ask yourself: what do you want or need?
It’s tempting to throw rules out because they’re inconvenient, or don’t give you what you want now. Beware of this tendency—it lurks within all of us. If you’re taking on the responsibility of writing your own rule book, you’re also taking on the responsibility to do so… well… responsibly.
You may have a very good reason to nix the no-cake-before-dinner rule.
“I’ve realized I have an unhealthy fascination with diet strictness. My perspective on food has taken the enjoyment out of eating, and limiting my food choices is encouraging me to under eat. I need to feel free to eat anything I want for a while.”
That’s a good reason for change!
“I’m an adult, gosh darn it. I can do what I want, and what I want to do is eat cake.”
That’s an excuse.
Take time to understand what you want and need for your life. Evaluate which of your desires are legitimate and which are excuses.
3. Create new rules
Now put it all together.
Creating new rules haphazardly is a surefire way to wind up unhealthy and unproductive. You have no basis to know whether that rule will actually help you achieve your goals!
Don’t just throw out your old rules. Update them. The best way to create rules that work for you is to reconcile the wisdom of the past with your desires for the future.
For example, I find that when I eat my chocolate cake is irrelevant. But I know myself and my tendency to go back for just another bite (or ten). So I made my new rule: I am allowed to eat my cake before dinner if I want, but I’ve limited myself to eating only one “treat” per day.
This keeps me generally healthy (following the spirit of the original rule) while allowing me the freedom I desire to eat cake before dinner on a bad day.
How can you create something that solves your needs without throwing out the wisdom of the rule in the first place? Get creative!
This may mean admitting an old rule really is the best way to go and keeping it in your life. It may look like chucking the old rule out entirely. Or it may mean updating an old rule in a way that better serves your personality and your life.
Knowing why you’re following a tradition, trend, or rule is important. Not only does this line of thinking challenge you to truly understand your values and goals, but it will also give you an extra dose of confidence when the naysayers inevitably call you out.
You didn’t make your choice arbitrarily. You’re not blindly following in someone else’s footsteps.
You’re using their footsteps as a guide to help you forge your own path—one you believe in and that will help you reach your fullest potential.
My excitement erupted like a pack of Mentos splashing into a river of Diet Coke.
I found Dave sequestered in the lobby of a student conference, using the sign-in table as an impromptu desk. Attending the conference as staff, we were squeezing in work between workshops, sessions, and socialization.
Dave mentioned his most recent project, video scripts to showcase our products, and I was immediately intrigued. I had dreams of building a writing career, so any conversation surrounding the topic often reignited my zeal.
Unfortunately, Dave wasn’t as excited.
I sincerely wished him the best of luck as I claimed a quiet corner for my own impromptu office. As an Admissions Representative, I had calls to make and emails to answer.
Not five minutes later, I saw Dave coming my way.
“Would you like to write these scripts?” He asked. “It would really help me out.”
My heart leapt into my throat. After all the time I had spent learning, practicing, and perfecting my craft, here was my opportunity to shine, handed to me on a silver laptop.
One draft and two revisions later, I was invited to write three more scripts; this time for the marketing department. Before I knew it, I was helping out with minor editing jobs on top of my normal duties as an Admissions Rep.
After 2 months of squeezing two jobs into one 40-hour work week, I was able to transfer into a full-time position position as a writer.
My dream career was finally beginning.
Make the Most of the Waiting Room
Before what turned out to be a life-changing chat with Dave, I didn’t know what future was waiting for me or when it would come. I felt like I was in a waiting room.
But that wasn’t a bad thing.
Do you remember how awesome waiting rooms were as a kid? There was a never ending supply of exciting activities: toys, puzzles, and magazines. (Highlights, anyone?)
But then we grew up and waiting rooms became something to be dreaded and gotten through as quickly as possible.
When did waiting become a passive activity? What if waiting rooms were still the embodiment of freedom, fun, and endless possibilities? A place to use your imagination, to experiment, and to build your chops before your name is called for the next opportunity?
Do you want to be ready to take your shot when it comes? Take a lesson from your inner child and get lost in these 4 activities while you wait.
Activity # 1 - Stop Slacking and Build Skills
What if that initial conversation had gone more like this:
Dave: “I’m working on video scripts to showcase our products.”
Me: “Wow! That’s something I’ve always wanted to do! But instead of working on my craft, I’m working through Friends for the fifth time. Isn’t Netflix autoplay brilliant?”
If you want to take advantage of future opportunities, you need to hone your skills now. Whether it’s directly related to what you want to do or not, there’s always something new to learn. Take initiative and find new ways to expand your skill base.
Activity # 2 - Crush Your Current Job
I was only at that conference because of my job.
Was it my dream career? Not even close! Every day I was challenged to do something that doesn’t come naturally to me: talk to strangers on the phone.
Did I give that position my all anyway? You bet.
Like the imperfect first draft of an essay, your first job (or jobs) may not be particularly exciting. But you keep working hard, because—like that essay—transforming the wrong job into the right one is always easier than jumping into your perfect career at the start.
Activity # 3 - Make Friends in High Places
Opportunities aren’t scarce. Check out LinkedIn. They’re everywhere! But if that’s true, why do good opportunities seem so hard to find?
Because no one knows who you are.
As much as it sucks, the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who” is surprisingly on the nose.
My very first job was at a Chick-fil-A in Texas where my sister (who already worked there) put in a good word for me. When my family moved to Florida unexpectedly, I needed a new job. Guess who hired me? Another Chick-fil-A.
When I applied for the Admissions Representative role at Accelerated Pathways, being a student in the program (and also knowing an employee) gave me a connection that set me apart from other applicants.
Don’t underestimate the people who are willing to stick their neck out for you. Invest well, and they’ll pave the way when your time comes. (Of course, this doesn’t mean you can stop working on your skills! Your connections can get you an interview, but your skills get you the job.)
Activity # 4 - Prepare to Jump
“What if I’m not ready?”
I didn’t think I was ready to become a “real writer” when the chance came. Handing my work to an editor for the first time was like buckling up for my driver’s test, just praying I would remember how to parallel park.
No, I didn’t do it perfectly. It took another two revisions before my original draft was brought up to snuff. But I did it.
You might not land gently (or even on your feet), but if you’re serious about changing your situation—be it landing your dream job or tackling another opportunity—you have to jump when the opportunity comes.
Are you “stuck” in a waiting room? Good! This is your personal training ground. Use it. Build a skill, work a job, network...
The college system can be endlessly confusing. Whether attempting a transfer or simply trying to decide how many classes to take this semester, one of the most common questions we get from students is:
How many credits do I need for a bachelor’s degree?
The simple answer: you must complete 120 college credits to earn a bachelor’s degree. That’s about 40 classes, which most people assume you can complete in 4 years.
But it’s more complicated than that.
You can’t just register for 40 random courses and expect to walk away with a bachelor’s degree. The kinds of credit you take is very important. That’s what enables you to actually qualify for graduation. And that’s what we’ll be talking about in this post.
Let’s start with the basics.
What are college credits?
College credit is the standard measurement of a student’s academic competency. Essentially, it represents how much effort you, the student, put into a single course over a semester (15 weeks). This effort is most often represented by hours of work.
1 college credit represents approximately 1 hour spent in a classroom and 2 hours spent on homework each week.
Most single-semester college courses are worth 3 credits, or 9 hours of work per week.
If you’re hoping to graduate in 4 years, you’ll need to average 15 credits (roughly 5 courses) a semester. By this estimate, that’s 45 hours of work per week!
What kinds of courses will get me a bachelor’s degree?
As I mentioned before, you can’t just sign up for whatever course tickles your fancy and expect it to fit into your degree. A bachelor’s degree is a highly-structured form of study. Most colleges want to ensure their students have a good foundation in the liberal arts (your basic math, history, science, and writing courses) while also digging deeply into whatever major you’ve chosen to study. That adds up to a fairly specific arrangement of courses in order to qualify for graduation.
Almost any college you choose will split your bachelor’s degree into 3 basic sections:
To encourage a broad education, your college will require you to take up to 60 credits of low-level courses spanning a variety of general subjects. While you get to choose which choose which specific courses you take, you must pick from within your college’s requirements.
Here’s an example of what you might find in this section:
In this example, your college requires 6 history credits, but they don’t particularly care which particular history course you study. You can study Western Civilization, American History, or History of the Vietnam War. As long as you complete 6 history credits, you’ve fulfilled the requirement.
One way to lower the cost of your degree overall is to take many of your general education courses through a program like Accelerated Pathways. We create custom degree plans that will allow you to take many of your general education courses online (at an average of 36% less than regular college courses) and have those credits transfer to the degree and college of your choice. If you want to learn more, reach out to the Accelerated Pathways team.
2. Free Electives
This may be the most fun section of your degree (and may be the reason so many people get the idea that a bachelor’s degree is a highly customizable type of education). In this section, your college will allow you to complete up to 30 credits of any course you want.
The free electives you choose may have nothing to do with your major, and that’s fine! You can choose from the college’s myriad of available courses, choosing up to 10 that truly are whatever you want to learn. This is a great way to give you, the student, that bit of freedom to try new things, think divergently, and not get too pigeon-holed in whatever major you chose.
3. Area of Study
This final selection of credits will consist of the specific courses required by your major. Generally, many of these courses will be upper-level courses (meaning they’re more specific, more intense, and more time-consuming than the rest of your bachelor’s degree).
For example, if you were pursuing a degree in psychology, your area of study requirements may look like this:
You’ll notice this example includes a 6-credit requirement for “psychology electives.” These electives work very similarly to your free electives. In this case, you may choose two courses (6 credits) from a pre-approved selection of psychology-related courses. This gives you a small way to tailor your degree to your particular interest or goals within the field of psychology. (You’ll also likely have fewer free electives as a result.)
Why should I care how my bachelor’s degree is structured?
If you’re planning to let an over-worked and underpaid college advisor hand you a pre-made plan which tells you exactly what to do, what to take, and how much money to waste by going to college the traditional way, then you really don’t need to know how your bachelor’s degree is structured. Go ahead and sign up and complete your courses. You will walk away with a decent education, but you’ll just have spent a lot more time and money getting it than you otherwise could have.
If, on the other hand, you’re interested in outsmarting the college system (what we do every day here at Pearson), then understanding how your degree is structured is absolutely invaluable.
Why? Because one of the best ways to save money on college is by transferring credit. There’s a myriad of ways to earn college credit that will save you thousands of dollars on your degree. Community college, CLEP, DSST, and affordable online courses are just a few examples. Trust me, if you want to save money on college, the best thing you can do is understand what exactly you need to graduate and find a way to earn that credit somewhere else. Then, once you’ve earned as much credit outside of your chosen college as possible, transfer it all in to complete the degree.
Doing college this way may sound a little unorthodox, and it is. But trust me. We’ve helped thousands of students graduate debt free using this simple method. It works.
But even if you’re not trying to hack the college system or save money on your degree, if you’re simply considering switching colleges (for any reason), understanding how degrees are structured will help you avoid wasting time and money on college credit that overlaps or doesn’t transfer at all.
This blog post was originally published in January 2018. It has since been updated to provide the most current and relevent information.
Last week, I thought financial aid was akin to black magic. All I knew for sure was it “helps students pay for college.” I wasn’t sure how or even who qualified for it, and I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one living in ignorance.
So, I called an expert.
Rebecca Decker is an admissions counselor for Pearson Accelerated Pathways and has been using her expertise to help hundreds of college students make good financial decisions for the past seven years (not to mention the four years she spent learning about and managing her own financial aid in college).
After an hour-and-a-half-long conversation with Rebecca, breaking down what financial aid is and how it works, I learned this government-sponsored financial program definitely isn’t black magic…but it isn’t exactly a fairy godmother either.
What is Financial Aid?
Most students don’t have the ability to pay for college out of pocket. Considering tuition, books, room and board, and other related fees, the cost can be substantial. Not surprisingly, most students need to research financial aid options.
Financial aid consists of a variety of components that help students pay for college, such as scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. Although some types of aid do not need to be paid back, others do.
It wasn’t until I talked to Rebecca that I learned that financial aid does not always equate to “free money.”
“It’s absolutely possible to qualify for grants, which are essentially free money,” Rebecca said, “but most of the time, accepting financial aid means taking out federal loans.”
I suddenly felt ripped off. No one—NO ONE—ever told me that financial aid meantstudent loans. Having been raised to live debt free myself, the idea that student debt may be masquerading under a friendlier title didn’t sit well with me.
“If financial aid is just a loan,” I asked, “how is it any better than getting a private loan to pay for college?”
Turns out, there are a few differences between a federal student loan and a private loan:
Most federal loans don’t require a credit check.
Federal loans often have low, fixed interest rates, which vary based on the first disbursement date of the loan. The interest rate for Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans for undergraduate borrowers first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020, and before July 1, 2021, is 2.75% (A private loan could easily exceed 18%.)
Federal loans are tax-deductible.
Federal loans can also be deferred—most commonly, students will defer their loans for up to 6 months after they graduate (allowing time to get a job).
While this list may make federal student loans look nicer than what Mr. Local Banker Man would has to offer, it should be noted that student loans are still debt. Taking out a student loan means spending money you don’t have and that you will have to pay back... with interest.
Given that, let’s talk about the different kinds of federal student loans you could apply for and the impact they can have on your financial future.
What is FAFSA?
The first step toward applying for financial aid involves filling out an application.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) is exactly what it sounds like—your financial aid application. Completing this form is the only way to learn what kind of federal aid you qualify for. The purpose of the FAFSA is to allow states and colleges to determine which students are eligible to receive financial aid. It also helps them determine how much aid students will get. “The first thing students should know is that completing your FAFSA is not a commitment,” Rebecca said. Applying is not agreeing to accept aid. You’re just finding out how much you qualify for.
How Does FAFSA Work?
What kind of aid you qualify for is based almost solely on your tax information (for minors, that means your parents’ tax information). This is the broad measuring stick the government uses to determine your eligibility for various levels of financial aid. The more you make, the less aid you qualify for, essentially. While your state, school choice, and a few other elements (e.g., how many courses you’re planning to take) are factored in this decision, they’re all secondary to your yearly taxes.
Student loans fall into one of two categories: federal and private. There are two key differences between federal and private loans. The first is that federal loans have lower interest rates. The second is that federal loan repayment programs offer greater flexibility.
Direct Loans: Subsidized and Unsubsidized
Both subsidized and unsubsidized loans are granted at the beginning of a semester, and neither is required to be paid back until after you graduate (or otherwise disenroll from your school). No matter which year the loan covers, once you’re out of school, your payments begin.
The big difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans is when you start paying interest.
An unsubsidized loan gains interest just like a private loan would: starting the day you take it out. The don’t-pay-until-you-graduate grace period only applies for your loan payments. Interest payments are still required throughout your time in school.
However, if you take out a subsidized loan, the government pays interest for you while you’re in school. Your personal interest payments will begin only after you graduate, along with the rest of your loan payments.
If you’re going to take out a federal student loan, Rebecca recommends pursuing a subsidized one.
“I remember the difference by saying ‘unsubsidized is uncool,’” Rebecca said. “Paying off the interest on an unsubsidized loan can be very stressful for students, especially if they aren’t earning much on the side while they’re in school.”
Plus, she mentioned, if you are earning an income while in school, you would be better served by putting that money toward paying for your next semester upfront and skipping the loans altogether rather than paying down a growing debt.
The fewer loans you take out, the less interest you pay. The less interest you pay, the cheaper college will be.
If you decide to walk the precarious loan path and don’t qualify for subsidized and unsubsidized loans, or if you have taken out as much as you can but still need extra money to cover your final college costs, there is a third type of federal loan to pursue. But in Rebecca’s opinion, it’s a very poor choice and should be avoided at all costs.
Direct PLUS Loans
Direct PLUS Loans work a little differently than both subsidized and unsubsidized loans:
First, PLUS loans require a credit check. So if you don’t have credit, your parents must act as co-signers. This means if you fail to pay it back, the loan burden will default to your parents.
Second, at 5.3%, the interest rate for PLUS loans is higher than that of a subsidized or unsubsidized loan.
Third, not only do PLUS loans gain interest from the day they’re borrowed, just like an unsubsidized loan, but you’re also required to pay an extra fee on top. Currently, the loan fee is equal to a little over 4% of the amount you borrow.
Bottom line: this loan is available, but it’s expensive—and possibly harmful to not just you but also your parents.
“When I was applying for school, my parents wouldn’t co-sign this loan for me simply on principle,” Rebecca said. Her family was one of the many who decided the potential dangers of applying for this type of loan outweighed the benefits of college. That’s serious.
Other Types of Financial Aid
Students should also know that they may qualify for a variety of “free” financial aid options, such as grants and scholarships.
While the loan portion of financial aid is what most students qualify for, there is a happier side to the process. By completing a FAFSA, you may also qualify for grants.
A grant is a free gift of money that the recipient is not required to pay back except under certain conditions (like if you disenroll early or make a similar change that alters your eligibility). These grants are what every student thinks of when they imagine financial aid, and it’s every bit as good as it sounds.
If you qualify for a grant, we recommend you take it before considering any of the student debt options we mentioned above.
The Federal Pell Grant
“Think of the Federal Pell Grant as a collective pool of money set aside by the government to help students pay for college. Each year, this money is distributed among applicants based on their need.”
For the 2020-21 school year, the maximum amount a student could receive from the Pell Grant was $6,345 per year. That’s a fair chunk, especially for students pursuing community college or another low-cost option. Of course, how much of this money you actually receive depends on your financial need, the cost of your school, whether you’re attending part or full time, and how many semesters you’re paying for.
Your “financial need” is the biggest consideration here. This is determined based on your most recent (or your parents’ most recent) tax return. And, unfortunately, there’s a large swath of individuals who fall into the camp of making too much to qualify for the Pell Grant while not actually making enough to actually pay for college. Curious if you’re eligible for Pell? The U.S. Department of Education provides a handy tool for estimating how much aid you’ll qualify for.
Rebecca wanted to go into detail about state grants as well—and what kind of money you may or may not qualify for according to your state. Unfortunately, state grants aren’t standardized, which means the information would be far too complicated and technical to relate in this post.
But it’s worth noting that if your state does have a grant to offer, you’ll find out by filling out a FAFSA. You can also contact your state grant agency to ask about possible grants.
School Grants and Scholarships
Like with state grants, this is another type of grant that isn’t standardized but is available by completing a FAFSA. However, you’ll need to apply to the school in question to gain access to the information.
If you’re accepted to the university in question, it’ll put together a financial aid award letter based on your FAFSA. You’ll receive this letter along with your notification of acceptance to the school. If you qualify for any of the school’s grants or scholarships, this letter will tell you.
Of course, you can also contact the school directly to ask about possible scholarships or grants you may qualify for. You might be able to find out about scholarships offered for specific majors.
Learn More About How to Pay for College
My conversation with Rebecca was more helpful than I could have hoped for, but it left me perturbed. When grant money is so difficult to come by and loans are so easy, it can be tempting to assume student loans are the best way to pay for college.
But that’s just not true.
At Accelerated Pathways, we believe college shouldn’t be a debt sentence. We help students avoid the need for student loans altogether by lowering their college costs through the use of affordable online courses. I’d encourage you to make a smart financial decision and avoid federal student loans. Learn more about how Accelerated Pathways can help you save money on your education and graduate debt free.
Special thanks to Rebecca Decker, one of our amazing admissions counselors, for taking the time to chat with me about this topic.
College is expensive. Too expensive. Student loan problem, debt crisis, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing random strangers on the internet rattle on without end about the overwhelming cost of college.
To be honest, I’m a little tired of writing about it too. So today, I’m switching gears.
Here are 68 nuggets of financial wisdom you can put to use immediately. Each will help you think twice and spend your dollars more wisely when it comes time to walk the hallowed halls.
Save money in college by: being smart about college.
Obviously, you know your specific financial situation better than I (or anyone else offering generic advice) ever could. So listen to your gut and don’t spend money you don’t have.
*This number was calculated by taking the average cost of single males and females ages 19-50, using the USDA’s "low-cost" food plan for 8 months—roughly the amount of time a student will spend on campus each year. (# 34)
**This number was calculated by taking the same USDA average grocery budget and dividing it by 90 meals per month (3 meals per day). Fun fact: after an intense month of receipt tracking and cooking at home, this is almost exactly what each of my home-cooked meals ended up costing me. I halved my food bill that month. 😎(# 35)
In high school, I was just like you. I spent hours surfing college websites, organizing my high school transcript, and checking every little box. I wanted to go to college and be a success. Not just college—I wanted to go to grad school and really do something with my life.
At the time, I planned to follow the medical path, pursuing a career as a naturopathic doctor. I’m not sure what motivated this dream beyond a passing interest in humans, biology, and health. But somehow, the plan had formed in my mind, and that meant I had to work out every kink and detail until my dream became a reality.
But I was paranoid that, as a homeschooler, my chances of getting into college would be slim. And, worse, my chances of getting into grad school would be nonexistent.
What about you? Are your big dreams causing anxiety about whether the world of traditional scholarship will take you seriously? Before you waste your time in high school attempting to perfectly arrange the next 8 years of your academic life, let me offer you a little advice.
You might be getting ahead of yourself.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t end up becoming a doctor.
“But Abigail,” you say, “it was your dream!”
Yeah. Sure. If you look back at my story, you’ll notice in my flurry of research, studies, and college course comparison, I forgot to account for one tiny detail.
I was 15 years old.
Ten years later, I look back on little high school Abigail and her big dreams, and I chuckle. I was so obsessed with the idea of going to grad school and becoming a doctor that I didn’t realize I was nearly failing Chemistry. I didn’t think about how I was spending all my free time writing novels or that my favorite hobby was reading fantasy books. I also, for some reason, didn’t find it suspicious that my path toward a doctorate started with enrolling in college for an English degree.
I didn’t notice how poorly suited I was to a future in medicine because I was 15 years old. I was doing what 15-year-olds do: dreaming, experimenting, learning, living. When I finally realized I was actually a writer, I only did so by looking back on my high school years to discover I had already been one the whole time.
Trust me, most 15-year-olds don’t know themselves well enough to discern where they’ll be when they’re 25. Give yourself some time.
The best way to prepare for the future is to do well now.
Does that mean you shouldn’t dream big? You shouldn’t start down a path that will take 10+ years to reach the end?
Not at all. Dream as big as you like and make as many plans as your heart desires. And even feel free to start working toward them! Just don’t marry them.
You probably feel more pressure than ever to ensure you’re on the “right” path right now. That’s why I’m here to remind you that high school isn’t the time to engrave your life plan into stone. It’s your time to experiment. To learn who you are and what you like. To learn what you’re interested in, what you’re good at, what you’re naturally drawn to.
If you really feel convinced that grad school is in your future, that’s awesome. Start preparing by completing high school and college to the best of your ability. Try as many new experiences as possible and discover what you’re truly passionate about. That will be your best chance.
What about grad school? Won’t homeschooling ruin my chances?
I just want to put this out there: homeschooling will not bar you from grad school.
Whew! You can breathe a sigh of relief. Your homeschool years haven’t been a curse, keeping you from a more traditional college education. In fact, they’ve probably been a blessing. Having so much freedom to pursue your education more or less on your own has likely taught you the most important skills for grad school: curiosity and self-motivation.
Grad school is even more hands-off than college. Many of these degrees are research-focused, requiring students to have the ability to pursue their studies on their own. Sure, you’ll have guidance, but you won’t have a teacher (or mom) explaining assignments or helping you through lesson plans. That’s up to you.
And, let’s face it, grad schools don’t really care how you checked the high school box anyway. So take your homeschooling adventure as an opportunity to practice studying independently and taking ownership of your education—that’s the best grad school preparation you can get.
Transfer students tend to lose 40% of their credit when making the switch to university. But it’s not because of subpar coursework and certainly not because their new university is a big bully. It’s usually because the student didn’t take the right credit in the first place.
But it’s not impossible. And I’m here to show you how to do it (even though I personally think you’d be better off trading in community college for Accelerated Pathways—which I intend to shamelessly plug at the end of this post).
Pulling off a successful stint at community college starts where every other college decision should start: knowing what you want.
Start with the end in mind.
All too often, students seeking a cheaper alternative to college enroll in an eye-catching associate degree program before considering what bachelor’s degree they want. This isn’t a great idea. While community colleges are less expensive than university, community college advisors aren’t equipped to tell you what will transfer and what won’t. Their only job is to deliver what you ask for. That means if you ask for the wrong thing (i.e. an associate degree that doesn’t actually line up properly with your future goals) you’re in for some serious disappointment a couple of years later.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, college degrees are structured very specifically. Earning a B.A. in English requires you to take different courses than you would to earn a B.A. in Business Management. Makes sense, right? But what’s more—earning a B.A. in English from Stanford University will also require different courses than earning a B.A. in English from NYU.
That’s right. It’s not just degrees that differ in course requirements, each college does too.
So before contacting your local community college, first decide what degree you want and where you want to graduate from. This—admittedly—is a monster of a task in and of itself. (If you want some help with it, I recommend our free ebook What Should I Major In?)
Then you’ll need to know what’s required to earn that specific degree from that specific school. What kinds of courses do you need? What subject? What specificity? What level? Check the college’s website for this information. If you’ve never done this research before, it may feel like drinking from a fire hose. Our a crash course on college course codes may help.
Once you understand what degree you want, where you want to earn it from, and your degree’s specific college credit requirements, only then can you can begin researching which of those credits you can transfer from a community college.
Understand college transfer policies.
Most colleges only allow students to transfer in a certain amount of outside credit, so do a quick search on their website to find out how much outside credit your university allows. This will tell you the maximum amount of credit you should be looking to earn from your community college. Taking anything beyond this maximum will be a waste of your time and money.
The next thing to consider is whether your chosen university and community college actually work well together. Because of those pesky disagreements over course-requirements, earning a 2-year associate degree does not automatically mean you’re halfway done with your bachelor’s. This is one of the most common mistakes community college graduates make. You can only transfer a full associate degree into a bachelor’s degree program if that university and community college have a very good, pre-existing transfer agreement.
That’s why it’s important to understand what kind of transfer agreement your chosen community college has with your chosen university. These policies tend to come in 4 varieties with varying levels of transferability: no relationship, general articulation agreement, general education articulation, and degree-to-degree. The better the transfer agreement, the safer your community college credit is. Let’s take a quick look to understand what each of these means.
Looking for a no hassle way to get college credit that's guaranteed to transfer? Accelerated Pathways offers courses that are guaranteed to transfer into the college of your choice. We can even help you find schools that will take your existing credit when you enroll in our programs. Learn more by signing up for a complimentary student advising session.
1. No Relationship
Most likely, the two colleges you’re evaluating will have no transfer relationship whatsoever. This doesn’t mean you can’t transfer your community college credits to your university, but it does mean the process will be tougher.
When two colleges have no pre-existing transfer agreement, each of the courses you attempt to transfer will have to be evaluated individually. The university in question will have to dig into the courses you took—their course codes, names, descriptions, syllabi, etc.—to determine whether they meet the requirements for bachelor’s degree completion. Some courses will match, others won’t.
Colleges that are unlikely to have transfer agreements:
Community colleges and private schools
Colleges in different states
Schools that are very far apart
2. General Articulation Agreement
In the case of general articulation agreements, the university has already done the course content evaluations we talked about in the previous section and they already know which of the community college’s courses lineup with their own standards and which don’t. But that’s as far as their relationship goes.
This can be thought of as a “course-to-course” agreement: the university in question only accepts courses into their bachelor’s degree program individually, but they at least know beforehand which are eligible and which aren’t.
3. General Education Articulation
A general education agreement is the next level up from course-to-course. This kind of agreement means your university has enough of a relationship with the community college to accept all of your general education credits without question.
No checking course information, no figuring out if the courses line up. With this kind of agreement, as long as the credit you’ve taken at your community college falls into the “general education” category, it’s guaranteed to transfer to your university. Total win.
4. Degree to Degree
A degree-to-degree agreement is the absolute best community college transfer situation, and it’s typically what everyone expects when enrolling in community college. This kind of agreement means the full associate degree you earn at your community college is guaranteed to transfer into your university’s bachelor’s degree.
Yes, this kind of agreement does exist. It’s great when it happens. But it’s very, very rare. Usually, if a degree-to-degree agreement exists, it will be between a community college and a state school, with the community college acting as a “feeder school” for the university in question.
When researching the transfer agreements between your community college and your university, pay attention to which kind of agreement these schools have. The better the relationship, the more guarantee your credit will transfer.
Plan it out, then talk to an advisor.
Once you know what bachelor’s degree you want, what school you want to get it from, which community college is the best choice for your chosen university, and what kind of transfer agreement the two schools have, it’s time to put your plan together.
This is the part that, unfortunately, I can’t coach you through. Every university and degree requirement is so different that you’ll probably be spending a significant amount of time researching, thinking, and trouble-shooting as you try to understand which community college courses are “safe” and which aren’t.
Fortunately, while I can’t coach you through this step, you’re not completely alone. Once you’ve done your absolute best to build your credit-transfer plan, you can take this plan to your chosen university’s college advisor to ensure your plan will actually work.
Note that I said your university’s advisor, not your community college’s advisor. A community college advisor cannot help you with this step. As I mentioned earlier, their job isn’t to help you transfer credit between colleges, it’s to enroll you in an associate degree program, so asking them for credit-transfer advice will be fruitless and frustrating. Instead, talk to an advisor at the university you want to graduate from. Have them review your plan and tell you whether or not these courses will transfer.
There’s one more thing to keep in mind during this step: while talking to an advisor will certainly give you the best bet at a well-made plan, things change. College policies change and the community college course you enroll in this semester may no longer be accepted at your university in 2 years. Your university advisor will be able to greenlight your plan based on the current state of the college’s transfer policy, but if it changes… that’s just really unfortunate for you.
While such changes aren’t necessarily likely—especially if you’re sticking with earning more general courses—just know it can happen. And if it does, it’s not your advisor’s fault. It’s just the way these things work.
Can I skip the research?
Now you may have an idea why I said transferring from community college to university is possible, but not easy. This kind of research takes a long time, is confusing as heck, and in the end you’re still just guessing.
Unfortunately, skipping out on this research phase isn’t advised—unless you want to risk being one of the 40% we mentioned earlier. But I have good news for you: there is one way you can get out of it. Let us help. (Time for the plug!)
At Pearson, we help students use transfer credit to mimic the cost-savings of a community college. But we take it one step further. 94% of Accelerated Pathways graduates earn their degrees 100% debt free.
We’re credit transfer experts, equipped with over a decade of experience transferring credit to and from hundreds of colleges. My point? We can guarantee with confidence that the affordable, online courses you take through us will, in fact, transfer to the college of your choice (or your money back… plus some). All without you lifting a finger.
After taking time to discuss your goals and plans, and how your college degree can help you achieve them, our Accelerated Pathways advisors will help you craft your own fully-customized degree, selecting the most affordable school(s) and courses to meet your goals. With our help, you’ll end up graduating with a debt-free degree that’s not only perfectly tailored to your budget, but also your lifestyle. Learn more about Accelerated Pathways by clicking here.
Whether you let us help or decide to go it alone, you’re already off on the right foot. The best (and only) way to ensure a smooth transfer from community college to university is by knowing what you want and planning ahead. So keep reading up, learning all you can, doing your research, so you can get the clearest picture of where you want to go. That will give you the best shot at getting there as efficiently as possible.
Last year, a west-coast student who applied to Cornell was pleased to be deemed “likely to admit.” But that same student was rejected by her California state campus.
Why? She was good enough for the Ivy League, but not good enough for UC Santa Barbara?
Why is 4.06 the average GPA to make the cut at the University of California? Why are the acceptance rates for dozens of completely average colleges across the golden state plummeting, with less than half of applicants finding a spot?
I have one word for you: impaction.
What is Impaction?
Impaction is what happens when your state effectively runs out of money. It’s what happens when the cost of living rises like Pacific waves and government budgets are stretched to bursting. It’s what happens when you’re in such desperate need of income that you consider placing a tax on texting.
Impaction is what happens when there are 400,000 students graduating from high school every year, but your colleges are already full, so you have nowhere to put them. Too many butts, not enough seats.
You can’t build facilities. You can’t add new buildings. You can’t hire new teachers. You can’t do anything to meet the new demand placed on you for higher education. You just don’t have the money.
This immense shortage of higher education has suddenly made California colleges the most exclusive club on the west coast. Every year, hundreds of thousands of completely average students are pitted against each other in a vicious fight for admission to completely average schools.
You know what schools are typically fought over in this manner? Harvard and Yale. But California students aren’t fighting because the schools they want to attend carry the magical career-guaranteeing reputation of Harvard and Yale (though some do). It’s because there’s nowhere else to go.
And, unfortunately for those students of entirely-average intellect, it’s pretty much the A-plusers who are winning that fight. Turns out, when your school receive hundreds of thousands of applications every year, Ivy League reputation or not, you receive the right to be choosy about who you let in. And why wouldn’t you choose the best?
Impaction has created a serious hurdle for students trying to get into college. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. It’s hindering students’ ability to get out.
Imagine what happens when almost every student in a maxed-out school needs to take English 101 to fulfill a general education requirement. Course registration becomes a race almost as dirty as the application process. If you don’t click faster than the next guy, you’ll end up sitting out until next semester. Or the next one. Or the next one.
This slowed graduation is only exacerbating the situation at impacted Californian schools. The state of California itself concluded this graduation delay, if not reversed immediately, may have major negative consequences on their future economy… which is kind of what got them into this mess in the first place.
Can Anything Be Done?
Unfortunately, while “just build new campuses” sounds like a great solution, money doesn’t just grow on palm trees. And besides, the time it would take to plan, construct, and staff these schools still wouldn’t help the students being excluded by their local campuses right now.
So, the state has attempted to find another reaction to the impaction protraction:
Filtering students based on geography.
As we mentioned earlier, California enrollment offices are filled to the brim with applications from Ivy League geniuses and perfect SAT scores, including thousands from out of state. They have the option to be picky.
But the state colleges as a whole have decided to tip the scales, giving preferential treatment to local applicants. So, UC Los Angeles is going to prefer a Los Angeles candidate over one from Sacramento and a Sacramento applicant over a Texan.
Unfortunately, due to the immense application numbers, students are still held to the highest of standards, needing top-of-the-line brain cells to gain admittance (especially at UCLA, which has always been a competitive school). But simply being from the local area will at least give Californian applicants an edge.
Filtering students based on student status.
Many schools have an understandable bias toward freshmen. After all, more freshman = more courses bought = more revenue for the school. They’re literally the most valuable kind of student a college can find. This is no different in California.
If you keep up with Accelerated Pathways, you know we have a special love for transferring credit, especially credit earned online. It can be one of the best ways to save money on your degree.But, we have to admit, that’s probably not the best option for hopeful California applicants. Earning transfer credit might lower your place in the pecking order. And there’s nothing worse in California than being lower in the pecking order. (Except maybe LA rush hour traffic.)
As always, there are some exceptions to the rule. For instance, dual credit isn’t penalized the same way transfer credit is, since dual credit is an indication that the student is a cut above the rest of their peers, thus, a better student for a school to nab. Another exception would be students transferring specifically from California community colleges. But that’s a topic which deserves a blog post all its own.
Filtering by degree.
It’s worth noting the quirks of the impaction problem—specifically, that different programs are affected differently. For instance, while one school may have an average acceptance rate of 28% and SAT expectation of 1250, their Engineering program might be more popular—and, thus, tougher to get into. Acceptance into Engineering might be closer to 10% with a 1400 SAT.
So, in order to take advantage of the space available, colleges have introduced certain measures which—intentional or not—may encourage students to pursue some of the less popular programs. That’s what we’ll talk about next.
Delivering the California Promise.
The California Promise was the “bold measure” California put into action back in 2016 in an attempt to decrease time to graduation. This promise guarantees students early registration as well as enhanced academic advising in return for a commitment to take 15 credits per semester (approximately 5 courses) and maintain a good GPA.
Any student is eligible as long as they’re residents and have a degree plan enabling them to graduate in exactly 4 years. (Or 2 years, for transfers.) However, there are some strict stipulations for qualifying like no changing majors and absolutely no failing classes. The Promise leaves no time for retaking credits. Also, the student must be pursuing one of the less impacted majors. For instance, San Jose State University bars Nursing students (one of the most impacted degree programs) from taking advantage of the Promise.
While it’s not a magical fairyland, this program has definitely been a relief to thousands of students at a good 20 or so California State University campuses.
Unfortunately, it’s still not enough. New high school students graduate every year, joining the ranks of last year’s high school graduates, and last-last year’s high school graduates, all waiting for their shot at college. Even with the Promise, April Grommo, director of Enrollment Management Services at CSU, says “unless something changes in state funding... impaction is here to stay.”
When there’s no money, there’s no money. And there’s no money in California’s education system.
Advice for California Students
So, what if you’re one of those unlucky students, biting your nails over your academic future? What can you do?
Honestly, not a lot. But we know sitting on your hands doesn’t feel very good (and makes them all tingly). So our research department did come up with a few suggestions to hopefully bring back that famous California sunshine back into your future.
1. Be intellectually honest with yourself.
To get into one of the top California schools, you have to be an A+ student. Period. If you’re a B student, that doesn’t mean you can’t get into a California school, but it will be harder. A lot harder. Sorry.
So, be honest with yourself. Do you have what it takes to make it into a local school? If not, maybe consider one of these other options.
2. Identify whether you even need a 4-year credential.
We talk about this enough in other blogs, so I won’t rehash the argument here. But the gist is this: if you don’t need a college credential to do what you want to do, save yourself the time, money, and intense headache of the California system. Don’t go.
I know college is important, but it’s not necessary for every career path—don’t assume it’s necessary for yours until you do the research.
3. Know exactly which credential you need.
If you do the research and decide you do need a degree, we suggest you understand precisely which degree you need and what courses you need to take in order to earn it.
Remember what we said about clicking faster than the next guy? You can only do that if you know what classes you’re looking for. And you can only know what classes you’re looking for if you have your entire degree plan already mapped out.
Having this degree plan is also the only way to take advantage of the California Promise if that’s something you’re interested in. But with the restriction on changing majors, you’ll be stuck with what you start. So start well.
4. Apply Everywhere.
In California, you don’t have the luxury of applying to one school. When a college like CSU Long Beach (i.e. an extraordinarily average institution) sports acceptance rates like 28%, you know you’re in for a challenge.
Apply to every school you’re remotely interested in attending because when the acceptance letters are mailed out, you won’t have your pick of schools. You’ll be lucky to get accepted at all.
Though, keep in mind, if one of the colleges you’re considering applying to is a community college, that comes with a whole other bundle of specific rules and distinct limitations most students don’t have. It’s not as simple as starting then expecting your credits to transfer to university.
5. Consider graduating from an inexpensive online school in another state.
It’s not “giving up” to be realistic about the odds being not so much in your favor. As a California student, choosing an out-of-state school may be one of the few guarantees afforded to you.
Of course, the caveat of attending college out of state is always the costs associated with doing so. They’re high. Unless you find a cheaper way to go about it. Accelerated Pathways is that way.
It’s our job to help students graduate college debt free. And while many of our students have been able to do that from their local colleges, a great many more have done so via inexpensive online colleges and loads of affordable transfer credit. We’ve helped many California students do exactly this.
While the situation in California is indeed more grim than hopeful, I didn’t write this post to bring you down. I did it to help you understand what you’re up against, so you can choose the best option for you.
Because you do have options.
Which will you pick? That’s up to you, your goals, and what you want out of your time in college. So be realistic and choose wisely. (And call us if you need any help.)
Special thanks to Jared Brandau, head of research at Accelerated Pathways, for making this blog post possible! This gifted college super-genius graciously took time out of his busy schedule to thoroughly educate me on the scope of the impaction problem so that I could, in turn, educate you, dear reader.
As I mentioned in this article, Jared’s excellent team of advisors has already worked with hundreds of struggling California students, helping them find their best paths for reaching their college goals. They would love the chance to help you too. Just click here to talk to an advisor about your situation.
Working as a Student Counselor here at Accelerated Pathways, I’ve talked to many fear-stricken homeschool moms. Just last month, one such mom called me in a panic.
“I’ve done everything wrong! My child will never make it to college and it will be all my fault!”
Ever felt that way? You’re not alone.
Meet Bonnie, Cindy, Kelly, and Nickie: four successful homeschool moms who have graciously shared their stories about the ups and downs of homeschooling and what they consider to be the most important skills to teach your children, especially when preparing them for college.
So, what does your child need to succeed after high school?
How can a student prepare for the future if they have no idea what the future holds?
“We have this whole group of incredibly talented craftsmen who are going off to college for 4 years and are in $40,000 in debt,” said Kelly, mom of 3 and one of our former staff members. “Some of them could skip all that because they don’t need it! There are definite careers that need a college degree, but there are definite careers that do not and we should stop pushing everyone down the college route.”
Sometimes a certification, licensing, or tech school is the best option for students, especially if the career they’re pursuing is very specialized.
High school is a great time to allow your student to explore their options, find their “niche,” and learn what they’re passionate about. Allow your student to explore their options and, more importantly, allow them to fail while they’re still at home.
By trying, failing, and answering these tough questions in high school, your student can avoid making the same mistakes later in college, when the stakes are higher.
2. Self-Directed Learning
A natural planner, Cindy directed her efforts toward organizing the entire homeschooling process before even beginning. She found the perfect curriculums and made fool-proof plans.
“I tried to do ‘school at home,’ and ‘school at home’ did not work for us. It was horrible. I felt like a giant failure, like I couldn’t teach my sons. We wanted them to really think about things and not just do things because everybody else is doing them. I wanted them to be self-learners and know how to find the information, be able to be resourceful, and not be dependent on teachers.”
With that thought in mind, Cindy allowed her sons to pursue what interested them while keeping careful record of everything they did, softly facilitating their studies while they took charge of their own education. With some help, she turned their self-assigned projects into credits equal, if not superior, to those they would have earned following a traditional path.
This practice encouraged a habit of self-directed learning in her kids. It later paid off tenfold when both of her boys both began and graduated college early.
But not every family works the same way!
While Bonnie followed a more “strict” homeschool route, her children benefited by the same atmosphere of learning: “We did a traditional school day… however, we used a variety of materials and programs throughout the years. When we worked on a classical approach toward middle school and high school, the girls began to make good academic connections.”
Bonnie found this structured routine worked well with her girls’ personalities and even utilized it herself when she went back to finish her bachelor’s degree as an adult learner in 2009.
Encourage self-directed discovery and learning, whether this comes from self-assigned projects or mom-assigned ones. Kids are naturally curious. Hone in on your student’s learning style and run with it. The ability to self-direct is invaluable in college and beyond.
3. Thinking and Study Skills
When I asked Nickie which skills have been most important to her son post high school, she answered without hesitation:
“Critical thinking! We found classes for Biology, Chemistry, Logic, Latin, and Critical Thinking and they were a major part in developing great study habits.”
Teaching your students to break down every problem into digestible chunks can be one of the best gifts you can give them. Applicable to both higher education studies and ordinary life management, no student can be successful without this crucial skill.
Because he internalized foundational study skills, like in-depth note-taking and critical reasoning, Nickie’s son excelled in both high school and college.
“Through his high school years, he maintained a straight A average and was therefore exempt from final exams. He maintained a 4.0 GPA for several years and has a 3.97 GPA currently.”
Though study skills courses are often not for credit, learning how to reason well, increase memory skills, and take excellent notes will pay off in the long run, even if your student isn’t college bound.
According to these four homeschool moms, the best way to prepare your student for college is to instill the basic skills any adult will need to succeed in everyday life. Pass on the fundamental qualities you use every day: self-direction, dedication, and critical reasoning.
With these crucial life skills, your student is bound to succeed no matter where they go, college or otherwise.
We at Accelerated Pathways value self-directed learning, especially in the first years of a student’s education. Whether pursuing dual credit in high school or getting started in college, we’ll pair your student with a Success Coach who will help them learn the skills they need to succeed in college and life beyond. Click here to learn more about the Accelerated Pathways program.
College is the automatically-assumed next step for any high school graduate hoping to live a white-collar lifestyle. It’s your training ground to gain the skills and credentials you need to start a career, build a life, and—quite literally—graduate into adulthood.
But there’s still one major hurdle standing between you and college graduation: money.
Averaging $101,160 in total cost, college is a tad expensive. (And that’s just estimating public, 4-year, in-state colleges, which are significantly cheaper than private or out-of-state options.) Fortunately, loans are there to help. Think of student loan debt like an investment: you’re borrowing money to pay for a degree so you can get a good job after you graduate. Once you’ve got the job (read: are finally making money of your own), that’s when you’ll go back and pay off the loan. See how that worked?
Borrow money, get degree, get job, pay off loans. That’s the plan. And at first blush, it seems like a good one. Operating just like a business loan, home mortgage, car loan, or any other form of debt, getting a student loan seems simple and straightforward.
However, taking on student loan debt is a lot more complicated than borrowing a couple bucks from a friend. And it’s all these little complexities that carry the potential for financial destruction.
5 Consequences of Student Loan Debt
1. You have no idea if you can actually pay it back.
Student loans may sound simple, but let’s not forget about the context here:
The average student’s loan debt is $37,172; over a year’s salary for many. (We’ll assume the other $63,988 is paid for via grants, scholarships, or out-of-pocket funding.)
The average borrower is 18 years old.
The average 18-year-old has never actually worked in the field they’re interested in pursuing post-graduation. In fact, many have never worked at all.
Bottom line: college isn’t a magic bullet. It—like the debt you use to pay for it—is an investment. And an investment is not a guarantee.
But borrowing $30,000 with no clear idea of how you’ll pay that money back isn’t even an investment. It’s a serious financial risk. Especially when you consider that...
2. Interest compounds daily.
Student loans collect interest at an average rate of 5.8%. When this process starts depends on the type of loan you take out. (Some loans begin collecting interest directly after signing the dotted line, and some give you a grace period of 6 months after leaving school. You can read more about that here.) What’s important is that once a student loan does begin gathering interest, that interest compounds daily. This means every day, the loaner calculates 5.8% interest on the remaining principal loan amount, or if your loan has been capitalized, the total amount owed—collected interest and all. Not a good situation for you.
So if you borrowed $30,000, the day your loan begins collecting interest you’d owe an extra $4.77. The next day, you’d owe $9.54. After a month, if you made no progress paying off your loan, you will have tacked on at least $143 in interest. And this process will continue daily until your debt is paid in full. The best-case scenario (not a single missed payment) leaves you paying a total of $9,600 in collected interest on top of your original $30,000 loan amount.
3. Student loan payments pay off interest first.
So now you owe a minimum of $330 per month* for the next decade. Not a great situation, but it’s not unbearable either… except that your car just broke down and you had to use every last cent of this month’s paycheck fixing it or else risk not getting any more paychecks.
Now you can’t afford to make a full student loan payment this month, but you did manage to scrounge up $100 from the recesses of your bank account. It’s better than nothing, but you were also already a little (okay, a lot) behind on your payments. You’ve collected a lot of unpaid interest, and since your payments go to pay off interest first, that $100 doesn't even touch the principal amount at this point. Your unchanged loan amount will simply continue generating more interest at the same rate until you can manage to make up those behind-schedule payments… and all the extra interest they’re costing you.
4. You’re stuck with your student loan debt—no matter what.
But the real kicker for student loans is the fact that they never “go away.”
When someone takes out a loan to buy a house or car, often they have to offer some kind of collateral—some proof that they’re guaranteed to pay off that loan or the bank gets to repossess that item.
But a bank can’t exactly repossess your bachelor’s degree. So, if you fail to pay your debt, even filing for bankruptcy isn’t enough to cancel future payments. That debt will follow you, ever-increasing, until you pay it off or die.
5. In the end, student loan debt costs a lot more than just money.
Consider that what we’ve been talking about up to this point is the average student’s experience.
What if you need to borrow more than $30,000 to pay for college? What if you don’t get a 5.4% interest rate, but end up with 7% or 11%? What if you aren’t able to get a job at all for the first few months after college, or your loan ends up capitalized (collecting interest on top of interest)?
Turns out, most students aren’t able to pay back their loans in the 11 years they’re expected to. It actually takes them 21. That’s 21 years of living with a debt payment every month. 21 years of gaining interest every day. 21 years of growing expenses (a lot of life happens between the ages of 18 and 39), leaving less and less of your paycheck free for student loan payments.
Not to mention how student loan debt is affecting students’ lives in some pretty noticeable (and serious) ways beyond the pure numbers. Their debt is keeping them from moving out, buying houses, getting married, having kids, and starting businesses. It’s forcing many to work high-paying jobs they don’t actually enjoy simply because they need that job’s salary. Or, worse, they work low-paying jobs that won’t cover their loan payments, sinking them further and further into debt.
Some students are so weighed down by the emotional baggage of their ever-increasing debt (on top of the emotional baggage that comes simply with growing up) that they experience severe negative health symptoms or, in the case of this student, even contemplate suicide.**
But, maybe I’m just being pessimistic. That probably won’t be you, right? Your parents make decent money, and you’re pretty smart! You’ll probably get a scholarship or two, and you’ll be able to graduate with minimal debt at worst… right?
You’re Not The Exception.
Everyone thinks they’re the exception. Everyone thinks student debt happens to other people. Everyone thinks they’ll get the scholarship, the grant, the endowment, or some other magical solution that will send them to college on someone else’s tab.
And it’s true, some students are the exception. But you’re better off assuming you aren’t one of them.
First off, most scholarships aren’t enough to cover all your college costs. Not only are these awards difficult to attain, but the vast majority of them are a few hundred to a couple thousand bucks. Now, $1,000 isn’t a bad haul, but you’ll need 99 more of those if you want to cover your $100,000 bill entirely in scholarships.
So unless you’re so smart, so unique, or so good at sports that colleges want to pay you to attend their school, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to go to college on scholarships alone.
Yes and no. Some financial aid is free money—specifically the Pell Grant or a school-sponsored, needs-based scholarship (fancy speak for “a discounted tuition rate”).
But here’s the thing about grants and needs-based scholarships: if you (or your parents) make over $50,000 a year, you don’t stand a chance of getting them. The more money your family makes, the less the government and schools want to help you.
This leaves the majority of college students in what we call the Debt Zone: that awkward spot where you don’t earn enough to pay for college out-of-pocket (typically more than $200,000), but also aren’t poor enough to qualify for aid (less than $50,000).
If your family income falls between these two numbers and you don’t have some other crazy exception, then you’re in the Debt Zone. That leaves you and 45 million other students with a choice: take on student debt or don’t go to college.
While there are some circumstances in which taking out student loans for college is both necessary and helpful, especially for students pursuing high-demand, high-paying fields, like medicine or engineering, our opinion is that taking out student loans to pay for college is a dangerous move, especially if you don’t know what you want to do with your life afterward.
Fortunately, college doesn’t have to be a debt sentence.
The secret isn’t to find “free money” somewhere else to cover the immense cost of college. The secret is to make college affordable by cutting out the “extras” and focusing on exactly what you need to graduate. That’s what we do at Accelerated Pathways.
Every day, we help students who are stuck in the Debt Zone find more affordable paths to their bachelor’s degree. Our students are able to:
Compare their best college options to find the best one that fits their life and budget
Take classes that won’t break the bank
Pay for college one course at a time (instead of in one lump sum)
Choose online classes with the flexibility to fit around a full-time job or other life priorities
You remember that $30,000 loan we talked about earlier? That’s how much we can help students save by lowering their overall costs, removing the need to take out loans altogether.
Interested in learning more about how Accelerated Pathways can help you escape the Debt Zone, pay for college in cash, and graduate debt free? Check out our website to learn more.
*An estimation of your principal loan payment and your monthly interest payment.
**The attached reference contains political opinions unique to the author, not endorsed by Accelerated Pathways. (We’re just interested in the story.)